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We report on the influence of the structural properties on the refractive index of AlN films grown on Si(111) substrates by molecular-beam epitaxy using ammonia. The structural properties are assessed by reflection high-energy electron diffraction, atomic force microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction. Refractive index values are deduced from room-temperature spectroscopic ellipsometry. Optical data analysis is performed using the Kramers-Krönig relation in the transparent spectral region, from 1.6 to 3.2 eV. Evidence is presented showing the influence of strain and dislocation density on the AlN layer refractive index. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.