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The growth process, crystal structure, and optical properties of ultrathin GaAs and InAs wires (whiskers) as thin as 15–40 nm and about 2 μm long are reviewed and discussed. Experimental results for growing whiskers using Au as a growth catalyst during metalorganic vapor phase epitaxy (MOVPE) and the shape and growth direction of whiskers provide new insight into growth control of GaAs and InAs whiskers. The crystal structure of whiskers, Au behavior during MOVPE, and their growth mechanism are reviewed and discussed on the basis of transmission electron microscopic analysis. The photoluminescence spectra of GaAs wires are compared with those of a GaAs epitaxial layer, and the effect of surface treatment on the luminescence peak energy shift is discussed. The time dependent photoluminescence of GaAs wires is also discussed. The application of GaAs whiskers to light emitting devices is reviewed because a semiconductor wire structure employing quantum size effects is a very important element of electronic and optical devices. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.