During the past decade, scientific and technological interest in the properties of surfaces and interfaces has grown at an astounding rate. On first thought, one might not consider a neutron or even an x-ray photon to be a particularly sensitive surface probe given their relatively weak interactions with matter compared to that of a low-energy electron or atom. Indeed, low-energy electron diffraction and atomic beam scattering techniques have contributed significantly to our understanding of surface phenomena. Nonetheless, the very fact that electrons and atoms are so strongly interacting makes quantitative analysis of their scattering data difficult. The interaction of neutrons or x-rays with matter, on the other hand, is weak enough that the potential can be characterized by a relatively simple scattering amplitude. Presently attainable neutron intensities, though not yet comparable to those of x-ray synchrotron sources, are still of sufficient strength to permit a variety of surface or near surface reflectivity and grazing angle diffraction experiments. Because neutrons can distinguish between different isotopes of the same element, most notably hydrogen and deuterium, as well as couple to atomic magnetic moments via a dipolar interaction, they can be indispensable and complementary probes.
More conventional neutron diffraction techniques can also be applied to the study of interfacial phenomena and the effects of reduced dimensionality and compositional modulation in super-lattice structures grown by a variety of thin film deposition methods. In this article we will differentiate between reflectivity and diffraction measurements as follows: if the scattering occurs at a wavevector transfer low enough that the scattering medium appears as a continuum, so that amorphous and crystalline states are indistinguishable, then it will be considered to be in the reflectivity regime whereas diffraction will be taken to correspond to higher wavevector transfer where the precise arrangement of atoms is discernible.