Traditionally, neutron scattering is an essential method for the analysis of spin structures and spin excitations in bulk materials. Over the last 30 years, polarized neutron scattering in terms of reflectometry has also contributed largely to the analysis of magnetic thin films and magnetic multilayers. More recently it has been shown that polarized neutron reflectivity is, in addition, a suitable tool for the study of thin films laterally patterned with magnetic stripes or islands. We provide a brief overview of the fundamental properties of polarized neutron reflectivity, considering different domain states, domain fluctuations, and different domain sizes with respect to the neutron coherence volume. The discussion is exemplified by a set of simulated reflectivities assuming either complete polarization and polarization analysis, or a reduced form of polarized neutron reflectivity without polarization analysis. Furthermore, we emphasize the importance of the neutron coherence volume for the interpretation of specular and off-specular intensity maps, in particular when studying laterally non-homogeneous magnetic films. Finally, experimental results, fits, and simulations are shown for specular and off-specular scattering from a magnetic film that has been lithographically patterned into a periodic stripe array. These experiments demonstrate the different and mutually complementary information that can be gained when orienting the stripe array parallel or perpendicular to the scattering plane.
Keywords: coherence volume; magnetic multilayers; magnetic nanostructures; neutron reflectometry; polarization analysis.