Scanning Microscopy


Strained epitaxial semiconductor layers, much thicker than the critical thickness, have been used as "strain-relief" buffer layers for many years. The most successful structure developed so far dates back to the 1960's, and consists of a very thick ( ~30 μm) layer in which the misfit is gradually and continuously increased. These structures relax completely and have a sufficiently low threading dislocation density to allow a device structure to be grown on top. This process requires a very high growth rate to produce the buffer layer in a reasonable time, which is only provided by hydride vapourphase epitaxy. Recently, there has been interest in developing thinner structures using both graded and constant composition buffer layers, which, if successful, would resolve this problem. Here, we consider the mechanisms of strain relaxation, paying special attention to the changes in threading dislocation density and surface roughness that occur during misfit relief. An extensive series of experiments shows that the relaxation of constant composition layers, although not following current theoretical models, does appear to follow a simple empirical law. This result suggests an approach which can be used to predict the state of strain in any epitaxial structure, allowing more efficient strain-relief buffer layers to be designed.

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