Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Thin-film optics is the branch of optics which deals with very thin structured layers of different materials. In order to exhibit thin-film optics, the thickness of the layers of material must be on the order of the wavelengths of visible light (about 500 nm). Layers at this scale can have remarkable reflective properties due to light wave interference and the difference in refractive index between the layers, the air, and the substrate. These effects alter the way the optic reflects and transmits light. You can observe these effects every day in soap bubbles and oil slicks.
In manufacturing, thin film layers can be achieved through the deposition of one or more thin layers of material onto a substrate (usually glass), most often by a physical vapor deposition process such as evaporative or sputtering, or a chemical process such as chemical vapor deposition. These thin films are used to create optical coatings.
This process is used to create low-emissivity panes of glass for houses and cars, anti-reflective coatings on glasses, reflective baffles on car headlights, and for high precision optical filters and mirrors.
Thin-film layers are common in the natural world. Their effects produce colors seen in soap bubbles and oil slicks, as well as in many branches of the animal kingdom. For example, the reflective and iridescent wings of the Blue Morpho butterfly, the iridescent feathers of a peacock, the light collecting tapetum lucidum of many nocturnal species, and the photoophores of bioluminescent squid (e.g. the Bobtail squid).
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