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A reduced growth rate for plasma-assisted molecular beam epitaxy of GaN often limits growth to temperatures less than 750 °C. The growth rate reduction can be significantly larger than expected based on thermal decomposition. Conditions producing a flux consisting predominantly of either atomic nitrogen or nitrogen metastables have been established using various radio-frequency sources. The use of atomic nitrogen, possibly coupled with the presence of low-energy ions, is associated with the premature decrease in growth rate. When the active nitrogen flux consists primarily of nitrogen metastables, the temperature dependence of the decrease is more consistent with decomposition rates. A significant improvement in electrical properties is observed for growth with molecular nitrogen metastables. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.