Challenges in atomic layer etching of gallium nitride using surface oxidation and ligand-exchange

Daniel C. Messina, Kevin A. Hatch, Saurabh Vishwakarma, David J. Smith, Yuji Zhao, Robert J. Nemanich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Two atomic layer etching (ALE) methods were studied for crystalline GaN, based on oxidation, fluorination, and ligand exchange. Etching was performed on unintentionally doped GaN grown by hydride vapor phase epitaxy. For the first step, the GaN surfaces were oxidized using either water vapor or remote O2-plasma exposure to produce a thin oxide layer. Removal of the surface oxide was addressed using alternating exposures of hydrogen fluoride (HF) and trimethylgallium (TMG) via fluorination and ligand exchange, respectively. Several HF and TMG super cycles were implemented to remove the surface oxide. Each ALE process was monitored in situ using multiwavelength ellipsometry. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy was employed for the characterization of surface composition and impurity states. Additionally, the thermal and plasma-enhanced ALE methods were performed on patterned wafers and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) was used to measure the surface change. The x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy measurements indicated that F and O impurities remained on etched surfaces for both ALE processes. Ellipsometry indicated a slight reduction in thickness. TEM indicated a removal rate that was less than predicted. We suggest that the etch rates were reduced due to the ordered structure of the oxide formed on crystalline GaN surfaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022603
JournalJournal of Vacuum Science and Technology A: Vacuum, Surfaces and Films
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films


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