(Invited) Failure Mechanisms in AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Irradiated with 2MeV Protons

Monday, 25 May 2015: 08:30
Conference Room 4C (Hilton Chicago)
T. J. Anderson, A. D. Koehler (Naval Research Laboratory), P. Specht (University of California, Berkeley), B. D. Weaver (Naval Research Laboratory), J. D. Greenlee (NRC Postdoctoral Fellow Residing at NRL), M. J. Tadjer (U. S. Naval Research Laboratory), J. K. Hite, M. A. Mastro (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory), M. Porter (Naval Postgradute School), M. Wade (Naval Postgraduate School), O. Dubon (University of California, Berkeley), M. Luysberg (Ernst Ruska-Centre, Jülich Research Centre), K. D. Hobart (Naval Research Laboratory), T. R. Weatherford (Naval Postgradute School), and F. J. Kub (Naval Research Laboratory)
Gallium nitride high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) have shown the potential to be highly resistant to radiation damage, making them ideal for use in microwave power amplifiers and DC/DC converters in space-based applications. To investigate the mechanisms of radiation-induced degradation in AlGaN/GaN HEMTs, 2MeV protons were used to simulate the space radiation environment, and to probe the second order effect of inherent material defects on the response the initial material quality was intentionally varied by studying HEMTs on sapphire, Si, and SiC substrates.

     Irradiation was performed incrementally up to a fluence of 6x1014 cm-2. The Hall mobility and 2DEG density was measured on Van der Pauw structures before irradiation and at each dose.  The decrease in mobility can be attributed to increased carrier scattering in the 2DEG as a result of radiation-induced defects while the decrease in sheet carrier density is attributed to screening of the 2DEG from charged trap formation [1]. The magnitude of change in the 2DEG density is the same for all substrate materials (1x1012 cm-2), though the percent change varies due to different initial values. Note that mobility begins to degrade at lower fluence than sheet carrier density. FET I-V analysis indicated increased ON-resistance and decreased saturation current, consistent with the reduced mobility and sheet carrier density observed in the Hall measurements. The off-state leakage current decreased and threshold voltage was shifted slightly positive, again due to the reduced 2DEG density. The trapping mechanisms were further probed using pulsed I-V measurements at varying quiescent bias conditions. While the dynamic ON-resistance degradation under quasistatic conditions was consistent with DC measurements, the degradation under off-state stress conditions initiated at a lower fluence, and a culminated with a 10X higher degradation at the final fluence. This implies that dynamic ON-resistance, a parameter related to charge trapping, is much more sensitive to radiation than DC characteristics and must be considered when evaluating the radiation hardness of HEMT devices.

     TEM imaging was employed to directly probe the mechanisms suggested by the electrical measurements. Process-induced defects were visible in both reference and irradiated samples, notably an overflow of Au in the metal stack at the gate edge, possibly related to PECVD deposition of passivation layers. In addition a new, radiation-induced void at both edges of the gate in the Ni region of the Ni/Au gate metallization was revealed [2].  EDS line scans indicate that, after radiation, the 20 nm Ni layer diffused up into the Au, and to a lesser extent, into the AlGaN, leaving voids protruding ~300 nm under the gate edges. The mechanism of the void formation shows all features of Ni/Au inter-diffusion through vacancy exchange, known as the Kirkendall effect.  The exact process is still under investigation, but the voids result in reduced gate area, which is responsible for the degraded off-state performance.  It is particularly rare that such pronounced diffusion occurs at room temperature.  Since the voids only occur at the gate edges, an additional electrochemical or strain-induced driving force is likely present. Therefore the role of the SiNx passivation layer, as well as strain, at the gate edge will be factor in this ongoing research.

1. T.J. Anderson, et. Al. IEEE Electron Dev. Lett. 35 (8), 826-828 (2014)

2. A.D. Koehler, et. Al. IEEE Electron Dev. Lett. 35 (10) (2014)