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The polarity of GaN films grown using GaN and AlN buffer layers on sapphire substrates by molecular beam epitaxy were investigated by atomic force microscopy, hot wet chemical etching, and reflection high-energy electron diffraction. We found that the GaN films grown on high temperature AlN (≫890 °C) and GaN (770–900 °C) buffer layers invariably show Ga and N polarity, respectively. However, the films grown using low temperature (∼500 °C) buffer layers, either GaN or AlN, could have either Ga or N polarity, depending on the growth rate of the buffer layer. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.