Tutorial Course Descriptions

Detailed Syllabus

C-322 Characterization of Thick Films, Thin Films, and Surfaces

This course is intended for people with a basic background in thin films who need to understand the broad range of techniques available to characterize films. The course is appropriate for technicians, engineers, and managers who perform or specify characterization work as well as students seeking a broad understanding of the field.

This tutorial examines the broad range of techniques available to characterize thin film materials. We examine the range of properties of interest and how thin film properties may differ from bulk properties. Generic differences between counting and spectroscopic techniques are presented. Available “probes” are identified.

The main emphasis of the tutorial is an overview of a wide range of characterization techniques. We examine imaging techniques such as Optical microscopy, Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and Scanning probe microscopies (STM, AFM …). We also explore techniques, which provide information about structural properties including X-ray diffraction (XRD), Stylus profilometry, Quartz crystal monitors (QCM) and density measurements.

The tutorial examines techniques, which explore chemical properties such as Auger electron spectroscopy (AES), Energy Dispersive Analysis of X-rays (EDAX), X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS, ESCA), Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), and Rutherford Backscattering (RBS). AES is used as a prototype to examine quantitative analysis of spectroscopic data. Characterization techniques for optical properties such as ellipsometry and optical scattering are also considered. Many of these chemical and optical techniques can also provide information about structural properties.


Techniques for determining electrical and magnetic properties are also discussed. These include resistance / four point probe, Hall effect, magneto-optical Kerr effect and ferromagnetic resonance. The emphasis here is on materials characterization as opposed to device characterization.

The tutorial concludes with an examination of techniques used to explore mechanical properties such as stress-curvature measurements, friction testing, micro/nano indentation and adhesion tests.


Topical Outline:

Overview of wide range of characterization techniques for thin films including:

  • Mechanical properties (stress, friction, micro/nano indentation, adhesion…)
  • Imaging (microscopies: optical, SEM, TEM, AFM …)
  • Structural properties (XRD, profilometry, QCM …)
  • Chemical properties (AES, EDAX, XPS, SIMS, …)
  • Electrical/magnetic properties (resistance, Hall effect, Kerr effect …)
Course Details:

  • Overview of thin film characterization
    • What do we want to know?
    • How could we find this out?
      • Available probes
      • Counting techniques
      • Spectroscopic techniques
    • Why are thin films different from bulk?
  • Imaging techniques
    • Optical microscopy
    • Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)
      • Electrons in solids
    • Transmission electron microscopy (TEM)
    • Scanning probe microscopies
      • Overview: near field effects
      • Scanning tunneling microscopy (STM)
      • Atomic force microscopy  (AFM)
  • Structural properties
    • X-ray diffraction (XRD)
    • Stylus profilometry
    • Quartz crystal monitors (QCM)
    • density
  • Chemical / structural properties
    • Auger electron spectroscopy (AES)
      • Quantitative data analysis in spectroscopies
      • Instrumental sensitivity factors
      • Depth profiling by inert gas sputtering
    • Energy Dispersive Analysis of X-rays (EDAX)
    • Wavelength Dispersive X-ray Analysis (WDX, electron microprobe)
    • X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS, ESCA)
      • Depth profiling by angle-resolved XPS
    • Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS)
    • Rutherford Backscattering (RBS)
  • Optical / structural properties
    • Ellipsometry
      • Single wavelength vs. multiple angle vs. spectroscopic
      • Ellipsometry models
    • Optical scattering
  • Electrical properties
    • Resistance/resistivity
      • four point probe
      • Van der Pauw
    • Hall effect
  • Magnetic properties
    • Magneto-optical Kerr effect
    • Ferromagnetic resonance
  • Mechanical properties
    • Stress-curvature measurements
      • Tensile vs. compressive stress
    • Friction testing
      • Pin on flat
      • Pin on disk
    • Micro/nano indentation
    • Adhesion tests

Instructor: Tom Christensen, Provost/Professor of Physics, University of Colorado - Colorado Springs
Tom Christensen

Tom Christensen is a Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He received his B.S. in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1979 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Applied Physics from Cornell University. After several years at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque he joined the University of Colorado faculty in 1989 where he has served as Department Chair, Dean and Provost. He has worked with vacuum technology, thin film technology and surface characterization since 1980 and has taught local AVS or SVC short courses since 1992.

This course is currently available via:
On Location Education Program

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