Ellipsometry is a versatile and powerful optical technique for the investigation of the dielectric properties (complex refractive index or dielectric function) of thin films.
It has applications in many different fields, from semiconductor physics to microelectronics and biology, from basic research to industrial applications. Ellipsometry is a very sensitive measurement technique and provides unequalled capabilities for thin film metrology. As an optical technique, spectroscopic ellipsometry is non-destructive and contactless.
Upon the analysis of the change of polarization of light, which is reflected off a sample, ellipsometry can yield information about layers that are thinner than the wavelength of the probing light itself, even down to a single atomic layer. Ellipsometry can probe the complex refractive index or dielectric function tensor, which gives access to fundamental physical parameters and is related to a variety of sample properties, including morphology, crystal quality, chemical composition, or electrical conductivity. It is commonly used to characterize film thickness for single layers or complex multilayer stacks ranging from a few angstroms or tenths of a nanometer to several micrometers with an excellent accuracy.
The name "ellipsometry" stems from the fact that the most general state of polarization is elliptic. The technique has been known for almost a century, and has many standard applications today. However, ellipsometry is also becoming more interesting to researchers in other disciplines such as biology and medicine. These areas pose new challenges to the technique, such as measurements on unstable liquid surfaces and microscopic imaging.