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We describe highly anisotropic reactive ion beam etching of nanophotonic structures in AlGaAs based on the ion beam divergence angle and chamber pressure. The divergence angle is shown to influence the shape of the upper portion of the etch while the chamber pressure controls the shape of the lower portion. Deeply etched distributed Bragg reflectors are etched to an aspect ratio of 8:1 with 100 nm trench widths. The profile of the grating etch is straight with smooth sidewalls, flat bottoms, and squared corners. Two-dimensional photonic crystal post arrays are fabricated with smooth and vertical sidewalls, with structures as small as 180 nm in diameter and 2.0 μm in height. © 1999 American Vacuum Society.