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A bird's eye view of research on sculptured thin films is presented in this chapter. Its scope is wider than the combined scopes of the remaining chapters, but the discussion is, of course, shallower. We recommend that this chapter be read before any other in this book. Sculptured thin films (STFs) are nanostructured inorganic materials with anisotropic and unidirectionally varying properties that can be designed and realized in a controllable manner using physical vapor deposition (PVD). This overview chapter traces the development of STFs from their precursors, with emphasis on two seminal events that occurred in 1959 and 1966, as well as on the sculptured columnar morphology of these materials. The defining continuum electromagnetic constitutive relations of STFs are presented, along with a control model to link the nanostructure of STFs to their continuum properties via a local homogenization formalism, for optical purposes. Finally, a tour of accomplished and emerging applications is taken.
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