We have studied the effects of rapid thermal annealing at 1300°C on GaN epilayers grown on AlN buffered Si(111) and on sapphire substrates. After annealing, the epilayers grown on Si display a stained surface. Scanning electron microscopy and optical confocal images revealed the presence of crater-shaped inhomogeneities that develop around protruding nuclei with tipically 50 micron diameter. Energy dispersive x-ray microanalysis yields a high concentration of Si in the crater regions as well as non-stoichiometric concentrations of Ga and N, with an excess of N.
Micro-Raman spectra obtained within the crater region exhibit Raman peaks associated with Si3N4 but no trace of GaN modes, while focused ion beam milling of this region leads to the accumulation of metallic Ga in the etched area. These results suggest that a substantial migration of Si from the substrate takes place during the annealing, which severely alters the material in the crater regions. Such annealing effects, which are not observed in GaN grown on sapphire, constitute a severe drawback for a widespread use of Si(111) substrates when high-temperature processing is required.