Absorption (electromagnetic radiation)

An overview of electromagnetic radiation absorption. This example discusses the general principle using visible light as specific example. A white light source — emitting light of multiple wavelengths — is focused on a sample (the pairs of complementary colors are indicated by the yellow dotted lines). Upon striking the sample, photons that match the energy gap of the molecules present (green light in this example) are absorbed, exciting the molecules. Other photons are transmitted unaffected and, if the radiation is in the visible region (400–700 nm), the transmitted light appears as the complementary color (here red). By recording the attenuation of light for various wavelengths, an absorption spectrum can be obtained.

In physics, absorption of electromagnetic radiation is how matter (typically electrons bound in atoms) takes up a photon's energy — and so transforms electromagnetic energy into internal energy of the absorber (for example, thermal energy).[1] A notable effect (attenuation) is to gradually reduce the intensity of light waves as they propagate through a medium. Although the absorption of waves does not usually depend on their intensity (linear absorption), in certain conditions (optics) the medium's transparency changes by a factor that varies as a function of wave intensity, and saturable absorption (or nonlinear absorption) occurs.


Quantifying absorptionEdit

Many approaches can potentially quantify how quickly and effectively radiation, with key examples following.

All these quantities measure, at least to some extent, how well a medium absorbs radiation. Which among them practitioners use varies by field and technique, often due simply to convention.

Measuring absorptionEdit

The absorbance of an object quantifies how much of the incident light is absorbed by it (instead of being reflected or refracted). This may be related to other properties of the object through the Beer–Lambert law.

Precise measurements of the absorbance at many wavelengths allow the identification of a substance via absorption spectroscopy, where a sample is illuminated from one side, and the intensity of the light that exits from the sample in every direction is measured. A few examples of absorption are ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, and X-ray absorption spectroscopy.


Rough plot of Earth's atmospheric transmittance (or opacity) to various wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light

Understanding and measuring the absorption of electromagnetic radiation has a variety of applications.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ West, William. "Absorption of electromagnetic radiation". AccessScience. McGraw-Hill. doi:10.1036/1097-8542.001600. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  2. ^ M. Falahati; et al. (2018). "Design, modelling and construction of a continuous nuclear gauge for measuring the fluid levels". Journal of Instrumentation. 13 (2): P02028. Bibcode:2018JInst..13P2028F. doi:10.1088/1748-0221/13/02/P02028.