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Gallium nitride epitaxial layers were grown on sapphire by molecular-beam epitaxy using nitridated gallium metal films as buffer layers. The mechanical properties of the buffer layers were investigated and correlated with their chemical composition as determined by synchrotron radiation photoelectron spectroscopy. Biaxial tension experiments were performed by bending the substrates in a pressure cell designed for simultaneous photoluminescence measurements. The shift of the excitonic luminescence peak was used to determine the stress induced in the main GaN epilayer. The fraction of stress transferred from substrate to main layer was as low as 27% for samples grown on nitridated metal buffer layers, compared to nearly 100% for samples on conventional low-temperature GaN buffer layers. The efficiency of stress relief increased in proportion to the fraction of metallic Ga in the nitridated metal buffer layers. These findings suggest GaN films containing residual metallic Ga may serve as compliant buffer layers for heteroepitaxy. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.
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