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Growth Optimization of Metal-polar III-Nitride High-electron-mobility Transistor Structures by Molecular Beam Epitaxy


GaN-based high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs) will play an important role in the next generation of high-frequency amplifiers and power-switching devices. Since parasitic conduction (leakage) through the GaN buffer layer and (Al,Ga,In)N barrier reduces the efficiency of operation, HEMT performance hinges on the epitaxial quality of these layers. Increasing the sheet charge density and mobility of the two-dimensional electron gas (2DEG) is also essential for reducing the channel resistance and improving output. The growth conditions applied in plasma-assisted molecular beam epitaxy (PAMBE) and ammonia-based molecular beam epitaxy (NH3-MBE) that result in high-quality metal-polar HEMT structures are described.

The effects of threading dislocations on the gate leakage and channel conductivity of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs were studied in detail. For this purpose, a series of HEMT structures were grown on GaN templates with threading dislocation densities (TDDs) that spanned three orders of magnitude. There was a clear trend of reduced gate leakage with reduced TDD for HEMTs grown by Ga-rich PAMBE; however, a reduction in TDD also entailed an increase in buffer leakage. By reducing the unintentionally doped (UID) GaN buffer thickness and including an AlGaN back barrier, a HEMT regrown by Ga-rich PAMBE on low-TDD free-standing (FS) GaN (~5 x 107 cm-2 TDD) yielded a three-terminal breakdown voltage greater than 50 V and a power output (power-added efficiency) of 6.7 W/mm (50 %) at 4 GHz with a 40 V drain bias. High TDD was then shown to severely degrade the 2DEG mobility of AlxGa1-xN/GaN (x = 0.24, 0.12, 0.06) and AlGaN/AlN/GaN heterostructures grown by Ga-rich PAMBE. By regrowing on low-TDD FS GaN and including a 2.5 nm AlN interlayer, an Al0.24Ga0.76N/AlN/GaN heterostructure achieved a room temperature (RT) 2DEG sheet resistance of 169 Ω/?. As evidenced by atom probe tomography, the AlN interlayer grown by Ga-rich PAMBE was pure with abrupt interfaces. The pure AlN interlayer greatly reduced alloy-related scattering.

When AlGaN/AlN/GaN heterostructures were grown by NH3-MBE at 820 °C, the 2DEG sheet density was lower than expected. These AlN interlayers were shown to have a significant concentration of Ga impurities by atom probe tomography. The source of these impurities was most likely the decomposition of the underlying GaN layers, as reduction of the growth temperature below 750 °C yielded a much lower concentration of Ga impurities. Flux optimization and application of an In surfactant was necessary to reduce the interface roughness in AlGaN/AlN/GaN heterostructures grown by NH3-MBE at low temperature, yielding sheet resistances below 300 Ω/?.

The growth of InAlN/(GaN)/(AlN)/GaN heterostructures with lattice-matched In0.17Al0.83N barriers by N-rich PAMBE is also described. Through flux optimization, the columnar microstructure previously observed in N-rich PAMBE-grown InAlN layers was eliminated. By including a 3 nm AlN interlayer and 2 nm GaN interlayer, an In0.17Al0.83N/GaN/AlN/GaN heterostructure regrown on low-TDD FS GaN achieved an exceptionally low RT 2DEG sheet resistance of 145 Ω/?.

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