In physics, absorption of electromagnetic radiation is the way in which the energy of a photon is taken up by matter, typically the electrons of an atom. Thus, the electromagnetic energy is transformed into internal energy of the absorber, for example thermal energy. The reduction in intensity of a light wave propagating through a medium by absorption of a part of its photons is often called attenuation. Usually, the absorption of waves does not depend on their intensity (linear absorption), although in certain conditions (usually, in optics), the medium changes its transparency dependently on the intensity of waves going through, and saturable absorption (or nonlinear absorption) occurs.
There are a number of ways to quantify how quickly and effectively radiation is absorbed in a certain medium, for example:
All these quantities measure, at least to some extent, how well a medium absorbs radiation. However, practitioners of different fields and techniques tend to conventionally use different quantities drawn from the list above.
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.
Understanding and measuring the absorption of electromagnetic radiation has a variety of applications. Here are a few examples: