Nanosecond resolution visible (633 nm) and near-infrared (1152 nm) reflectivity measurements have been used, together with transmission electronmicroscopy (TEM), to study pulsed KrF (248 nm) laser melting and subsequent solidification of thick (190–410 nm) amorphous (a) silicon layers. The measurements cover the entire laser energy density (El) range between the onset of melting (∼ 0.12 J/cm2) and the completion of epitaxial crystallization (∼1.1 J/cm2). Four distinct El-regimes of melting and solidification are found for the 410-nm thick a-Si layers. For El > 0.25 J/cm2, the time of formation, velocity and final depth of “explosively” propagating undercooled liquid layers were measured in specimens that had been uniformly implanted with Si, Ge, or Cu. TEM shows that the “fine-grained polycrystalline Si” produced by explosive crystallization (XC) actually contains large numbers of disk-shaped Si flakes that have largely amorphous centers and are visible only in plan view. The optical and TEM measurements suggest (1) that flakes are the crystallization events that initiate XC, and (2) that lateral heat flow (parallel to the sample surface) must be taken into account in order to understand flake formation. Results of new two-dimensional (2-D) model calculations of heat flow and solidification are presented. These calculations confirm the importance of 2-D heat flow and crystallite growth early in the solidification process. For 0.3 4 < El > 1.0 J/cm2, pronounced changes in both the shape and the duration of the reflectivity signals provide information about the growth of polycrystalline grains; this information can be correlated with post-irradiation plan and cross-section view TEM microstructural measurements.