Purpose This study aims to investigate photosensing characteristics of SiC and GaN nanowire-based devices through exposure to UV light. The photocurrent transients have been modeled to determine rise and decay process time constants. The 1D-semiconductor nanowires can exhibit higher light sensitivity compared to bulk materials because of their large surface area to volume ratio and the quantum size effects. Design/methodology/approach Nanowire devices have been fabricated through dielectrophoresis for integrating nanowires onto pre-patterned electrodes (10 nm Ti/ 90 nm Au) with a spacing about 3 mu m onto SiO2/Si (doped) substrate. The photocurrent measurements were carried out under room temperature conditions with UV light of 254 nm wavelength. Findings SiCNWs yield very short rise and decay time constants of 1.3 and 2.35 s, respectively. This fast response indicates an enhanced surface recombination of photoexcited electron-hole pairs. Conversely, GaNNWs yield longer rise and decay time constants of 10.3 and 15.4 s, respectively. This persistent photocurrent suggests a reduced surface recombination process for the GaNNWs. Originality/value High selective UV light sensitivity, small size, very short response time, low power consumption and high efficiency are the most important features of nanowire-based devices for new and superior applications in photodetectors, photovoltaics, optical switches, image sensors and biological and chemical sensing.