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The microstructure of thin layers of GaAs grown on Si substrates at low growth temperatures by molecular beam epitaxy was examined using transmission electron microscopy and MeV 4He+ ion channeling angular scan analysis. Crystalline island formation is observed at temperatures as low as 325 °C, with epitaxial orientation and distinct nucleation habits apparently tied to the symmetry of the misoriented substrate. For films with no exposure to temperatures above 405 °C, the planar strain is found to be compressive, up to a thickness of 100 nm.