The activities of the Network for Enhanced Semiconductor Surface Processing through In situ Monitoring (NESSPIOM), based in the UK and funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, are described. This group, consisting of academics and industrialists, is evaluating the potential benefits that may accrue from the use of optical monitoring methods during semiconductor surface modification, both from a fundamental and an applied perspective. The findings of the network to date are presented. Interferometry light scattering techniques and diode laser spectroscopy are highlighted as methods that may result in improved materials or processes, whereas other techniques such as reflectance anisotropy spectroscopy, spectroscopic ellipsometry, surface photoabsorption and second harmonic generation are found to provide more fundamental information. The future for the application of methods such as this within both the academic and industrial communities is discussed. Copyright (C) 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.