We report on the epitaxial growth of high quality GaN films on Si(111) substrates by molecular beam epitaxy using ammonia. The surface morphology and crystallinity of thick undoped GaN films are characterized by reflection high-energy electron diffraction (RHEED), scanning electron microscopy, and x-ray diffraction. Films having compact morphologies and flat surfaces are obtained and RHEED intensity oscillations are demonstrated for GaN and (Al, Ga)N alloys indicating two-dimensional growth. This has been applied to the growth of AlGaN/GaN quantum well (QW) structures. Low-temperature photoluminescence (PL) spectra of GaN are dominated by a strong and narrow (full width at half maximum=5 meV) band edge luminescence intensity at 3.471 eV assigned to donor bound exciton recombination. PL properties of AlGaN/GaN QW are also very similar to those obtained on equivalent structures grown on sapphire. (C) 1999 American Institute of Physics. [S0003-6951(99)02127-0].