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Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of two elements, gallium and arsenic. It is an important semiconductor and is used to make devices such as microwave frequency integrated circuits (ie, MMICs), infrared light-emitting diodes, laser diodes and solar cells.


GaAs advantages

GaAs has some electronic properties which are superior to silicon's. It has a higher saturated electron velocity and higher electron mobility, allowing it to function at frequencies in excess of 250 GHz. Also, GaAs devices generate less noise than silicon devices when operated at high frequencies. They can also be operated at higher power levels than the equivalent silicon device because they have higher breakdown voltages. These properties recommend GaAs circuitry in mobile phones, satellite communications, microwave point-to-point links, and some radar systems. It is used in the manufacture of Gunn diodes for generation of microwaves.

Another advantage of GaAs is that it has a direct band gap, which means that it can be used to emit light. Silicon has an indirect bandgap and so is very poor at emitting light. (Nonetheless, recent advances may make silicon LEDs and lasers possible).

Because of its high switching speed, GaAs would seem to be ideal for computer applications, and for some time in the 1980s many thought that the microelectronics market would switch from silicon to GaAs. The first attempted changes were implemented by the supercomputer vendors Cray Computer Corporation, Convex, and Alliant in an attempt to stay ahead of the ever-improving CMOS microprocessor. Cray eventually built one GaAs-based machine in the early 1990s, the Cray-3, but the effort was not adequately capitalized, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1995.

Silicon's advantages

Silicon has three major advantages over GaAs. First, silicon is abundant and cheap to process. Silicon's greater physical strength enables larger wafers (maximum of ~300 mm compared to ~150 mm diameter for GaAs). Si is highly abundant in the Earth's crust, in the form of silicate minerals. The economy of scale available to the silicon industry has also reduced the adoption of GaAs.

The second major advantage of Si is the existence of silicon dioxide—one of the best insulators. Silicon dioxide can easily be incorporated onto silicon circuits, and such layers are adherent to the underlying Si. GaAs does not form a stable adherent insulating layer.

The third, and perhaps most important, advantage of silicon is that it possesses a much higher hole mobility. This high mobility allows the fabrication of higher-speed P-channel field effect transistors, which are required for CMOS logic. Because they lack a fast CMOS structure, GaAs logic circuits have much higher power consumption, which has made them unable to compete with silicon logic circuits.

GaAs heterostructures

Complex layered structures of gallium arsenide in combination with aluminium arsenide (AlAs) or the alloy AlxGa1-xAs can be grown using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) or using metalorganic vapour phase epitaxy (MOVPE). Because GaAs and AlAs have almost the same lattice constant, the layers have very little induced strain, which allows them to be grown almost arbitrarily thick.

Another important application of GaAs is for high efficiency solar cells. In 1970, the first GaAs heterostructure solar cells were created by Zhores Alferov and his team in the USSR.[1][2][3] The combination of GaAs with germanium and indium gallium phosphide is the basis of a triple junction solar cell which held a record efficiency of over 32% and can operate also with light as concentrated as 2,000 suns. This kind of solar cell powers the robots Spirit and Opportunity, which are exploring Mars' surface. Also many solar cars utilize GaAs in solar arrays.

Single crystals of gallium arsenide can be manufactured by the Bridgeman technique, as the Czochralski process is difficult for this material due to its mechanical properties. However, an encapsulated Czochralski method is used to produce ultra-high purity GaAs for semi-insulators.


The toxicological properties of gallium arsenide have not been thoroughly investigated. On one hand, due to its arsenic content, it is considered highly toxic and carcinogenic. On the other hand, the crystal is stable enough that ingested pieces may be passed with negligible absorption by the body. When ground into very fine particles, such as in wafer-polishing processes, the high surface area enables more reaction with water, releasing some arsine and/or dissolved arsenic. The environment, health and safety aspects of gallium arsenide sources (such as trimethylgallium and arsine) and industrial hygiene monitoring studies of metalorganic precursors have been reported recently in a review.[4]

See also

Related materials


  1. Alferov, Zh. I., V. M. Andreev, M. B. Kagan, I. I. Protasov, and V. G. Trofim, 1970, ‘‘Solar-energy converters based on p-n AlxGa12xAs-GaAs heterojunctions,’’ Fiz. Tekh. Poluprovodn. 4, 2378 (Sov. Phys. Semicond. 4, 2047 (1971))]
  2. Nanotechnology in energy applications, pdf, p.24
  3. Nobel Lecture by Zhores Alferov, pdf, p.6
  4. Environment, health and safety issues for sources used in MOVPE growth of compound semiconductors; D V Shenai-Khatkhate, R Goyette, R L DiCarlo and G Dripps, Journal of Crystal Growth, vol. 1-4, pp. 816-821 (2004);Error: Bad DOI specified!

External links

de:Galliumarsenid it:Arseniuro di gallio he:גליום ארסניד hu:Gallium-arzenid fi:Galliumarsenidi sv:Galliumarsenid uk:Арсенід галію

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