Organic coatings have been widely used in atomic physics during the last 50 years because of their mechanical properties, allowing preservation of atomic spins after collisions. Nevertheless, this did not produce detailed insight into the characteristics of the coatings and their dynamical interaction with atomic vapors. This has changed since the 1990s, when their adsorption and desorption properties triggered a renewed interest in organic coatings. In particular, a novel class of phenomena produced by non-destructive light-induced desorption of atoms embedded in the coating surface was observed and later applied in different fields. Nowadays, low energy non-resonant atomic photodesorption from organic coatings can be considered an almost standard technique whenever large densities of atomic vapors or fast modulation of their concentration are required. In this paper, we review the steps that led to this widespread diffusion, from the preliminary observations to some of the most recent applications in fundamental and applied physics.
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