In physics, absorption of electromagnetic radiation is the way by which the energy of a photon is taken up by matter, typically the electrons of an atom. Thus, the electromagnetic energy is transformed to other forms of energy for example, to heat. The absorption of light during wave propagation 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 the 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, the same thing: How well a medium absorbs radiation. However, practitioners of different fields and techniques tend to conventionally use different quantities drawn from the list above. Fortunately, it is easy to convert from one measure to another, see Mathematical descriptions of opacity.
The absorbance of an object quantifies how much of the incident light is absorbed by it (not all photons get absorbed, some are reflected or refracted instead). 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 spectroscopy, in different parts of the spectrum, are ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, and X-ray absorption spectroscopy.
Understanding and measuring the absorption of electromagnetic radiation has an enormous variety of applications. Here are just a few examples: