Thin Film Thickness
The film thickness is determined by interference between light reflecting from the surface and light traveling through the film. Depending on the relative phase of the rejoining light to the surface reflection, interference can be defined as constructive or destructive. The interference involves both amplitude and phase information. The phase information from Δ is very sensitive to films down to sub-monolayer thickness. The figure below compares reflected intensity and ellipsometry for the same series of thin SiO2 layers on Si. There are large variations in Δ, while the reflectance for each film is nearly the same.
Ellipsometry is typically used for films whose thickness ranges from sub-nanometers to a few microns. As films become thicker than several tens of microns, interference oscillations become increasingly difficult to resolve, except with longer infrared wavelengths. Other characterization techniques are preferred in this case.
Thickness measurements also require that a portion of the light travel through the entire film and return to the surface. If the material absorbs light, thickness measurements by optical instruments will be limited to thin, semi-opaque layers. This limitation can be circumvented by targeting measurments to a spectral region with lower absorption. For example, an organic film may strongly absorb UV and IR light, but remain transparent at mid-visible wavelengths. For metals, which strongly absorb at all wavelengths, the maximum layer for thickness determination is typically about 100 nm.