We report the surface, structural, and optical properties of typical Ga- and N-polar GaN films grown on sapphire substrates by molecular beam epitaxy. The Ga-polar films were grown on AlN buffer while the N-polar films were grown on GaN buffer layers. Atomic force microscopy imaging shows that the as-grown and chemically etched Ga-polar films have a flat and pitted surface while the N-polar surface is rougher with isolated columns or islands. Transmission electron microscopy demonstrates a low density of inversion domains in the Ga-polar films, while a much higher density of inversion domains was observed in the N-polar films. X-ray diffraction curves show a narrower ~002! peak for Ga-polar films than that for N-polar films. On the other hand, both Ga- and N-polar films show a similar width of ~104! peak. Despite their rough surfaces, high density of inversion domains, and broader ~002! x-ray diffraction peaks, N-polar films with low dislocation density were demonstrated. In addition, higher PL efficiency for the N-polar films than that for the Ga-polar films was observed.
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