A thin film is a layer of material ranging from fractions of a nanometer ( monolayer) to several micrometers in thickness. The controlled synthesis of materials as thin films (a process referred to as deposition) is a fundamental step in many applications. A familiar example is the household mirror, which typically has a thin metal coating on the back of a sheet of glass to form a reflective interface. The process of silvering was once commonly used to produce mirrors, while more recently the metal layer is deposited using techniques such as sputtering. Advances in thin film deposition techniques during the 20th century have enabled a wide range of technological breakthroughs in areas such as magnetic recording media, electronic semiconductor devices, LEDs, optical coatings (such as antireflective coatings), hard coatings on cutting tools, and for both energy generation (e.g. thin film solar cells) and storage ( thin-film batteries). It is also being applied to pharmaceuticals, via thin-film drug delivery.
In addition to their applied interest, thin films play an important role in the development and study of materials with new and unique properties. Examples include multiferroic materials, and superlattices that allow the study of quantum confinement by creating two-dimensional electron states.