The technical development of the characterization of magnetic thin films is an urgent subject especially for further improvement of high-density and high-speed recording media. This article focuses attention on the fundamental methodology and recent exploitations of various magnetic circular dichroism (MCD) techniques. First, basic theories and experimental methods of the magneto-optical Kerr effect (MOKE) and X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) are described. MOKE is a conventional but usually the most useful method to characterize macroscopic magnetization of metal thin films using visible lasers. Moreover, recent development of MOKE allows one to perform optical microscopic and ultrafast time resolved investigations. XMCD has now become a mature technique by virtue of the developments of soft and hard X-ray synchrotron radiation sources. Since XMCD is based on core absorption spectroscopy, the technique provides information on element specific magnetization. Using the so-called sum rules, one can determine the microscopic spin and orbital magnetic moments. The experimental method and an example using a superconducting magnet system combined with a liquid helium sample cryostat are described. Moreover, by combining XMCD with photoelectron emission microscopy (PEEM), one can perform spatiotemporal measurements, whose spatial resolution reaches several tens of nanometres. Magnetization induced second harmonic generation (MSHG) is also described. This is a unique technique for its inherently high sensitivity to surfaces and interfaces since MSHG is inhibited in the bulk of centrosymmetric crystals. The drastic polarization dependence of MSHG based on the selection rules is also discussed. As a last method addressed in this article, the threshold photoemission MCD technique is reviewed. The technique has recently been proposed and has demonstrated the possibility of an ultrafast spatiotemporal method by combining PEEM. Applications of these various MCD families to surface physical chemistry are described. Here, drastic spin reorientation transitions (SRT) of some metal thin films induced by adsorption of atoms and molecules are discussed from the macroscopic and microscopic points of view. Consequently, future aspects in the MCD techniques and surface and thin film magnetism are addressed.
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