The influence of premetallization surface preparation on the structural, chemical, and electrical properties of Au-nGaN interfaces has been investigated by x-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS), current-voltage measurement (I-V) and cross-section transmission electron microscopy (TEM). XPS analysis showed that the three GaN substrate treatments investigated i.e., ex situ hydrofluoric acid etch, in situ anneal in ultrahigh-vacuum (UHV), and in situ Ga reflux cleaning in UHV result in surfaces increasingly free of oxygen contamination. XPS and TEM characterization of Au-nGaN formed after the three premetallization surface treatments show that HF etching and UHV annealing produce abrupt, well-defined interfaces. Conversely, GaN substrate cleaning in a Ga flux results in Au/GaN intermixing. I-V characterization of Au-nGaN contacts yields a Schottky barrier height of 1.25 eV with a very low-ideality factor and very good contact uniformity for the premetallization UHV anneal, while the Ga reflux cleaning results in a much lower barrier (0.85 eV), with poor ideality and uniformity. I-V and XPS results suggest a high density of acceptor states at the surface, which is further enhanced by UHV annealing. These results are discussed in the context of current models of Schottky barrier formation. (C) 2002 American Institute of Physics.