The detailed understanding of the magnetic properties of transition-metal multilayers requires the use of state-of-the-art experimental techniques. Over the last few years, the X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) technique has evolved into an important magnetometry tool. This paper is an overview of the principles and unique strengths of the technique. Aspects covered include the quantitative determination of element-specific spin and orbital magnetic moments and their anisotropies through sum-rule analyses of experimental spectra. A discussion is presented on how the spin and orbital magnetic moments in transition-metal thin films and sandwiches are modified relative to the bulk. We show that a thin film of a nonmagnetic metal such as Cu may become magnetically active when adjacent to a magnetic layer, and a thin film of a ferromagnetic metal such as Fe may become magnetically inactive. The orbital moment is found to become anisotropic in thin films; it can be regarded as the microscopic origin of the magnetocrystalline anisotropy.
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