The surface band bending, as well as the effect of plasma-induced damage on band bending, on GaN surfaces, was investigated. The upward band bending, measured by surface potential electric force microscopy (a variant of atomic force microscopy), for the as-grown n-type GaN was about 1.0 eV which increased to ∼1.4 eV after reactive ion etching (RIE). UV illumination decreased the band bending by 0.3 eV with time constants on the order of seconds and hundreds of seconds for the as-grown and RIE treated GaN, respectively. This implies that there is a higher density of the surface states in the samples subjected to the RIE process. After the RIE treatment, the shape of the photoluminescence spectrum remained unchanged, but the intensity dropped by a factor of 3. This effect can be attributed to nonradiative defects created near the surface by the RIE treatment. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.