We report on a methodological comparison between photocurrent (PC), electroluminescence (EL), and cathodoluminescence (CL) investigations on GaN metal–semiconductor field-effect transistors. The purpose of this work is to show the effectiveness and the complementarity of these experimental techniques and to investigate the presence and nature of electron traps which limit the performances of the devices. PC measurements reveal four distinct energy levels, located at 1.75, 2.32, 2.67, and 3.15 eV, responsible for current collapse. The 1.75 eV level has also been observed in low temperature EL curves. The 2.32 and 2.67 eV levels, on the basis of the comparison with CL and EL results, can be correlated with the so-called “yellow band,” located at 2.2 eV. The origin of 1.75 and 3.15 eV levels is at present unknown, however a nonradiative nature has been attributed to the 3.15 eV level, due to the absence of this signature in both CL and EL spectra. The luminescence measurements also reveal the presence of the donor–acceptor pair emission at 3.27 eV and the near-band-edge transition at 3.45 eV. EL measurements show a series of emission peaks in the energy range between 1 and 1.4 eV, while the CL spectra reveal a broadband at 2.8 eV, which arises mainly from the semi-insulating layer. This result has been obtained by increasing the energy of the CL electron beam, allowing us to investigate both the conduction channel and the layers underneath it.
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