The surface magneto-optic Kerr effect (SMOKE) has significantly impacted research on magnetic thin films. This is due to its sensitivity, local probing nature, and experimental simplicity. The polar and longitudinal Kerr effects are characterized by a complex rotation of the plane of polarization of linearly polarized incident light upon reflection from the surface of a ferromagnetic material. The rotation is directly related to the magnetization of the material within the probing region of the light. Light penetrates into metals >20 nm deep, but the SMOKE technique derives its surface sensitivity from the limited thickness of the deposited magnetic film, which can be as thin as one atomic layer. Basic principles, experimental arrangements, and applications of SMOKE are reviewed in order to acquaint the nonspecialist with the technique and place it into perspective.

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