Date of Award

3-2013

Degree Name

MS in Electrical Engineering

Department

Electrical Engineering

Advisor

Dennis Derickson

Abstract

Gallium Nitride (GaN) high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) are becoming increasingly popular in power amplifier systems as an alternative to bulkier vacuum tube technologies. GaN offers advantages over other III-V semiconductor heterostructures such as a large bandgap energy, a low dielectric constant, and a high critical breakdown field. The aforementioned qualities make GaN a prime candidate for high-power and radiation-hardened applications using a smaller form-factor. Several different types of semiconductor substrates have been considered for their thermal properties and cost-effectiveness, and Silicon (Si) has been of increasing interest due to a balance between both factors.

In this thesis, the DC, RF, and thermal characteristics of GaN HEMTs grown on Si-substrates will be investigated through a series of accelerated lifetime experiments. A figure of merit known as the critical voltage is explored and used as the primary means by which the GaN-on-Si devices are electrically strained. The critical voltage is defined as the specific voltage bias by which a sudden change in device performance is experienced due to a deformation of the target GaN HEMT’s epitaxial structure. Literature on the topic details the inevitable formation of pits and cracks localized under the drain-side of the gate contact that promote electrical degradation of the devices via the inverse piezoelectric effect. Characteristic changes in device performance due to high field strain are recorded and physical mechanisms behind observed degraded performance are investigated.

The study assesses the performance of roughly 60 GaN-on-Si HEMTs in four experimental settings. The first experiment investigates the critical voltage of the device in the off-state mode of operation and explores device recovery post-stress. The second experiment analyzes alterations in DC and RF performance under varying thermal loads and tracks the dependence of the critical voltage on temperature. The third experiment examines electron trapping within the HEMTs as well as detrapping methodologies. The final experiment links the changes in RF performance induced by high field strain to the small-signal parameters of the HEMT. Findings from the research conclude the existence of process-dependent defects that originate during the growth process and lead to inherent electron traps in unstressed devices. Electron detrapping due to high electric field stress applied to the HEMTs was observed, potentially localized within the AlGaN layer or GaN buffer of the HEMT. The electron detrapping in turn contributed to drain current recovery and increased unilateral performance of the transistor in the RF regime. Thermal experiments resulted in a positive shift in critical voltage, which enhanced gate leakage current at lower gate voltage drives.