Although GaN has been grown mainly by metal organic chemical vapour deposition (MOCVD), molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) offers the advantages of lower growth temperatures and a more flexible control over doping elements and their concentrations . We are growing GaN by MBE on sapphire substrates, using a GaN buffer layer to reduce the misfit strain, thus improving the structural quality of the epilayer. The quality of the GaN epilayers (in terms of their photoluminescence, mobility and structure) has been investigated as a function of the buffer layer thickness and annealing time.
The investigation showed that increasing the buffer layer thickness improved the mobility of the material because the defect density in the GaN epilayer decreased. Optical characterisation showed that the ratio of the donor band exciton (DBE) peak (3.47eV) to the structural peak (3.27eV) in the photoluminescence spectrum, measured at 10K, increased with decreasing defect density. The unwanted structural peak can be considered to originate from a shallow donor to a shallow acceptor transition, which is clearly related to the structural defects in GaN. Thus by increasing the buffer layer thickness and annealing time the structural quality, mobility and photoluminescence improves in the GaN epilayers.
Structural characterisation by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed that the observed increase in the DBE to structural peak ratio in the photoluminescence spectra could be correlated with a decrease in the density of stacking faults in the GaN epilayers. The detailed structure of these stacking faults was investigated by dark field and high resolution TEM. Their effect on the electrical and optical behaviour of GaN may be assessed by determining the local change in the dielectric function in the vicinity of individual stacking faults.