Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

GaN/NbN epitaxial semiconductor/superconductor heterostructures


Epitaxy is a process by which a thin layer of one crystal is deposited in an ordered fashion onto a substrate crystal. The direct epitaxial growth of semiconductor heterostructures on top of crystalline superconductors has proved challenging. Here, however, we report the successful use of molecular beam epitaxy to grow and integrate niobium nitride (NbN)-based superconductors with the wide-bandgap family of semiconductors—silicon carbide, gallium nitride (GaN) and aluminium gallium nitride (AlGaN). We apply molecular beam epitaxy to grow an AlGaN/GaN quantum-well heterostructure directly on top of an ultrathin crystalline NbN superconductor. The resulting high-mobility, two-dimensional electron gas in the semiconductor exhibits quantum oscillations, and thus enables a semiconductor transistor—an electronic gain element—to be grown and fabricated directly on a crystalline superconductor. Using the epitaxial superconductor as the source load of the transistor, we observe in the transistor output characteristics a negative differential resistance—a feature often used in amplifiers and oscillators. Our demonstration of the direct epitaxial growth of high-quality semiconductor heterostructures and devices on crystalline nitride superconductors opens up the possibility of combining the macroscopic quantum effects of superconductors with the electronic, photonic and piezoelectric properties of the group III/nitride semiconductor family.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Bandgap, lattice constant, crystallinity and superconductivity in epitaxial NbNx on SiC.
Figure 2: Magnetotransport measurements on 35-nm and 5-nm NbNx epitaxial films, showing two-dimensional superconductivity when the epilayer thickness is less than the coherence length.
Figure 3: Electrical and magnetotransport characterizations of group III/nitride/NbNx heterostructures.
Figure 4: Current–voltage characterizations of HEMTs with a superconducting source load at low temperatures.


  1. Onnes, H. K. Investigations into the Properties of Substances at Low Temperatures, Which Have Led, Amongst Other Things, to the Preparation of Liquid Helium. (Nobel Lectures, 1913)

  2. Riordan, M. & Hoddeson, L. in Crystal Fire 88–90 (WW Norton and Company, 1998)

  3. Kroemer, H. Nobel lecture. Quasielectric fields and band offsets: teaching electrons new tricks. Rev. Mod. Phys. 73, 783–793 (2001)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Alferov, Z. I. Nobel lecture. The double heterostructure concept and its applications in physics, electronics, and technology. Rev. Mod. Phys. 73, 767–782 (2001)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Jena, D. Tunneling transistors based on graphene and 2-D crystals. Proc. IEEE 101, 1585–1602 (2013)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Ladd, T. D. et al. Quantum computers. Nature 464, 45–53 (2010)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. Mooij, J. et al. Josephson persistent-current qubit. Science 285, 1036–1039 (1999)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Lancaster, M . et al. Superconducting microwave resonators. In IEE Proceedings H (Microwaves, Antennas and Propagation), vol. 139, 149–156 (IET, 1992)

  9. Cassidy, M. C. et al. Demonstration of an ac Josephson junction laser. Science 355, 939–942 (2017)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Gol’tsman, G. N., Okunev, O., Chulkova, A., Lipatov, A., Semenov, K., Voronov, B. & Dzardanov, A. Picosecond superconducting single-photon optical detector. Appl. Phys. Lett. 79, 705–707 (2001)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Mourik, V. et al. Signatures of Majorana fermions in hybrid superconductor-semiconductor nanowire devices. Science 336, 1003–1007 (2012)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. Sarma, S. D., Freedman, M. & Nayak, C. Majorana zero modes and topological quantum computation. npj Quant. Information 1, 15001 (2015)

    Google Scholar 

  13. Krogstrup, P. et al. Epitaxy of semiconductor–superconductor nanowires. Nat. Mater. 14, 400–406 (2015)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Yue, Y. et al. Ultrascaled InAlN/GaN high electron mobility transistors with cutoff frequency of 400 GHz. Jpn. J. Appl. Phys. 52, 08JN14 (2013)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Li, W. et al. Polarization-engineered III-nitride heterojunction tunnel field-effect transistors. Exploratory solid-state computational devices and circuits. IEEE J. Exp. Solid State Comp. Devices Circuits 1, 28–34 (2015)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Hu, Z. et al. Near unity ideality factor and Shockley-Read-Hall lifetime in GaN-on-GaN pn diodes with avalanche breakdown. Appl. Phys. Lett. 107, 243501 (2015)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Islam, S. M. et al. MBE-grown 232–270 nm deep-UV LEDs using monolayer thin binary GaN/AlN quantum heterostructures. Appl. Phys. Lett. 110, 041108 (2017)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Sheu, J.-K. et al. White-light emission from near UV InGaN-GaN LED chip precoated with blue/green/red phosphors. IEEE Photonics Technol. Lett. 15, 18–20 (2003)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Dubois, M.-A. & Muller, C. in MEMS-based Circuits and Systems for Wireless Communication (eds Enz, C. C. & Kaiser, A. ) 3–28 (Springer, 2013)

  20. Pernice, W. H. et al. High-speed and high-efficiency travelling wave single-photon detectors embedded in nanophotonic circuits. Nat. Commun. 3, 1325 (2012)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Faucher, M. et al. Niobium and niobium nitride SQUIDs based on anodized nanobridges made with an atomic force microscope. Physica C 368, 211–217 (2002)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Song, S., Jin, B., Yang, H., Ketterson, J. & Schuller, I. K. Preparation of large area NbN/AlN/NbN Josephson junctions. Jpn. J. Appl. Phys. 26, 1615 (1987)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Hajenius, M. et al. Low noise NbN superconducting hot electron bolometer mixers at 1.9 and 2.5 THz. Supercond. Sci. Technol. 17, S224 (2004)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Eastman, L. F. & Mishra, U. K. The toughest transistor yet. IEEE Spectr. 39, 28 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Katzer, D. S. et al. Epitaxial metallic β-Nb2N films grown by MBE on hexagonal SiC substrates. Appl. Phys. Exp. 8, 085501 (2015)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  26. Meyer, D. J. et al. Epitaxial lift-off and transfer of III-N materials and devices from SiC substrates. IEEE Trans. Semicond. Manuf. 29, 384–389 (2016)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Sanjinés, R., Benkahoul, M., Sandu, C., Schmid, P. & Lévy, F. Electronic states and physical properties of hexagonal β-Nb2N and δ′-NbN nitrides. Thin Solid Films 494, 190–195 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Meyer, D. J. et al. N-polar n+ GaN cap development for low ohmic contact resistance to inverted HEMTs. Phys. Status Solidi C 9, 894–897 (2012)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Klitzing, K. v., Dorda, G. & Pepper, M. New method for high-accuracy determination of the fine-structure constant based on quantized Hall resistance. Phys. Rev. Lett. 45, 494 (1980)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Xi, X. et al. Ising pairing in superconducting NbSe2 atomic layers. Nat. Phys. 12, 139–143 (2016)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Clogston, A. M. Upper limit for the critical field in hard superconductors. Phys. Rev. Lett. 9, 266 (1962)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  32. Nam, H. et al. Ultrathin two-dimensional superconductivity with strong spin–orbit coupling. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 10513–10517 (2016)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  33. Kozuka, Y. et al. Two-dimensional normal-state quantum oscillations in a superconducting heterostructure. Nature 462, 487–490 (2009)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  34. Tinkham, M. Effect of fluxoid quantization on transitions of superconducting films. Phys. Rev. 129, 2413 (1963)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  35. Aoi, K., Meservey, R. & Tedrow, P. Hc (θ) and Tinkham’s formula for high-field superconductors. Phys. Rev. B 7, 554 (1973)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  36. Ambacher, O. et al. Two-dimensional electron gases induced by spontaneous and piezoelectric polarization charges in N-and Ga-face AlGaN/GaN heterostructures. J. Appl. Phys. 85, 3222–3233 (1999)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  37. Jena, D. et al. Magnetotransport properties of a polarization-doped three-dimensional electron slab. Phys. Rev. B 67, 153306 (2003)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  38. Cao, Y., Wang, K., Orlov, A., Xing, H. & Jena, D. Very low sheet resistance and Shubnikov-de Haas oscillations in two-dimensional electron gases at ultrathin binary AlN/GaN heterojunctions. Appl. Phys. Lett. 92, 152112 (2008)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  39. Hamaguchi, C. Basic Semiconductor Physics (Springer, 2001)

  40. Manfra, M. J. et al. Electron mobility exceeding 160 000 cm2/V s in AlGaN/GaN heterostructures grown by molecular-beam epitaxy. Appl. Phys. Lett. 85, 5394–5396 (2004)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  41. Dingle, R. Some magnetic properties of metals. II. The influence of collisions on the magnetic behaviour of large systems. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. A 211, 517–525 (1952)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  42. Jena, D. & Mishra, U. K. Quantum and classical scattering times due to charged dislocations in an impure electron gas. Phys. Rev. B 66, 241307 (2002)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  43. Hsu, J. et al. Effect of growth stoichiometry on the electrical activity of screw dislocations in GaN films grown by molecular-beam epitaxy. Appl. Phys. Lett. 78, 3980–3982 (2001)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  44. Kaun, S. W., Wong, M. H., Mishra, U. K. & Speck, J. S. Correlation between threading dislocation density and sheet resistance of AlGaN/AlN/GaN heterostructures grown by plasma-assisted molecular beam epitaxy. Appl. Phys. Lett. 100, 262102 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  45. Shukla, N. et al. A steep-slope transistor based on abrupt electronic phase transition. Nat. Commun. 6, 7812 (2015)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  46. Thouless, D. J., Kohmoto, M., Nightingale, M. P. & den Nijs, M. Quantized Hall conductance in a two-dimensional periodic potential. Phys. Rev. Lett. 49, 405 (1982)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  47. Hasan, M. Z. & Kane, C. L. Colloquium. Topological insulators. Rev. Mod. Phys. 82, 3045–3067 (2010)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  48. Beenakker, C. Search for Majorana Fermions in superconductors. Annu. Rev. Condens. Matter Phys. 4, 113–136 (2013)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  49. Wood, C. & Jena, D. Polarization Effects in Semiconductors: From Ab-Initio Theory to Device Applications (Springer, 2007)

  50. Miao, M. S. et al. Polarization-driven topological insulator transition in a GaN/InN/GaN quantum well. Phys. Rev. Lett. 109, 186803 (2012)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  51. Nepal, N. et al. Characterization of molecular beam epitaxy grown β-Nb2N films and AlN/β-Nb2N heterojunctions on 6H-SiC substrates. Appl. Phys. Exp. 9, 021003 (2016)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  52. Werthamer, N., Helfand, E. & Hohenberg, P. Temperature and purity dependence of the superconducting critical field Hc2. III. Electron spin and spin-orbit effects. Phys. Rev. 147, 295 (1966)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  53. MacDonald, A. Transition-metal g factor trends. J. Phys. F 12, 2579 (1982)

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank A.H. MacDonald for fruitful discussions, and D. Storm for facilitating SIMS measurements. For the measurements performed here, we made use of the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) Shared Facilities, which are supported through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) program (grant DMR-1719875). The structure fabrications were realized in part at the Cornell NanoScale Facility, a member of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), which is supported by the NSF (grant ECCS-1542081), and a CCMR Superconductor Seed. D.J. and D.J.M. acknowledge funding support from the Office of Naval Research, monitored by P. Maki. D.J.M. also acknowledges device processing support from N. Green.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



R.Y., S.V. and J.W. performed electrical, magnetic and magnetotransport measurements. D.S.K, N.N, B.P.D and D.J.M grew and characterized the epitaxial layers. Y.H. performed scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) analysis on thin NbNx films under the supervision of D.A.M. S.R. conducted the transmission electron microscopy (TEM) measurements. R.Y. and G.K. conducted experimental data analysis and theoretical calculations, with help from D.J. and H.G.X. R.Y., G.K. and D.J. wrote the manuscript, with input from all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Rusen Yan, David J. Meyer or Debdeep Jena.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks Y. Krockenberger and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 STEM of a large-area, MBE-grown AlN/NbNx/SiC heterostructure.

a, STEM image of NbNx/AlN grown on top of a SiC substrate, showing the single-crystal nature of NbNx over a large region. The red lines have been added as a guide to show the crystallinity across the entire range measured. b, A twin boundary and a stacking fault in the MBE NbNx layer. This STEM image of NbNx/AlN on top of SiC shows a grain boundary with two cubic NbNx phases rotated across each other. The red and blue lines have been added to draw out the stacking fault seen near the twin boundary.

Extended Data Figure 2 AFM characterizations of thin films.

a, b, AFM images of epitaxial NbNx films that are 5-nm thick (a) and 35-nm thick (b), over areas of 1 × 1 μm2 and 3 × 3 μm2. RMS, root mean squared.

Extended Data Figure 3 Symmetrical 2θ/ω XRD curves of 5-nm and 35-nm NbNx on 4H-SiC.

2θ is the angle between the incident and diffracted beams, and ω is the angle between the incident beam and the sample surface. a, The 5-nm sample. b, The 35-nm sample. There is a clear separation between the SiC and cubic NbN (first- and second-order) peaks in the 35-nm sample. But this feature is absent in the 5-nm sample, owing to the weak XDR signal intensity in such an ultrathin film.

Extended Data Figure 4 Electrical characterizations of HEMT structures.

a, Drain current (Jd) versus top-gate voltage (Vgs) transfer curves at 300 K for HEMTs grown on NbNx/SiC substrate, showing a high on/off ratio at source–drain voltages (Vds) of 0.1 V (red curve) and 3 V (blue curve). b, Jd versus Vds curves for various top-gate voltages (from bottom curve to top, −3 V, −4 V, −5 V, −6 V, −6.5 V) of GaN HEMTs at 300 K.

Extended Data Figure 5 Representative transfer curves of a HEMT structure with superconducting load.

The graph plots Jd versus Vgs (without superconductor load) and Vgs′ (with superconductor load) at 5 K, showing the phase transition of NbNx that occurs when Jd is larger than 0.1 A mm−1.

Extended Data Figure 6 Electrical characterizations of superconducting NbNx films.

a, Summary of carrier density and mobility for different thicknesses of NbNx films, ranging from 4 nm to 100 nm. The red arrow shows that the red dots correspond to the left-hand y axis; the blue squares correspond to the right-hand y axis. b, c, Critical current density as a function of temperature for 5-nm and 35-nm NbNx films.

Extended Data Figure 7 Shubnikov–de Haas oscillations of 2DEG.

a, Magnetoresistance (Rxx) plotted against inverse magnetic field (1/B) before background subtraction, taken over the magnetic-field range of 10 T to 14 T. The oscillations occur at periods of 1/B—a clear indication of sharp peaks in the 2DEG density of states owing to Landau levels. The upward black arrow indicates increasing temperatures. The inset shows the 2.2 K data (light blue) with background (blue); the non-oscillating background was removed before evaluation of carrier concentration, effective mass, and scattering time. b, Landau plot of magnetoresistance relative minima plotted against inverse magnetic field. The slope of the line is ħ2πnSdH/2m*; the density and effective mass are taken from the Lifshitz–Kosevich fit to magnetoresistance oscillations.

Extended Data Figure 8 SIMS results obtained on the SiC/NbNx/AlN/GaN/AlGaN/GaN heterostructure.

The left-hand y axis shows the secondary-ion intensity (counts per second) of Al and Ga atoms. The right-hand y axis indicates the atomic percentages of N and Nb atoms, which are respectively 43.3% and 56.7%, indicating a N/Nb ratio (x) of 0.762 in linear (a) and log (b) scale of signal intensity. The x axis denotes the depth of the sample from the top surface.

Extended Data Table 1 Characteristic quantities in the normal state and superconducting state for thick and thin epitaxial NbNx films on 4H-SiC at 15 K
Extended Data Table 2 Epitaxial NbNx film properties

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yan, R., Khalsa, G., Vishwanath, S. et al. GaN/NbN epitaxial semiconductor/superconductor heterostructures. Nature 555, 183–189 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing