The linear attenuation coefficient, attenuation coefficient, or narrow-beam attenuation coefficient characterizes how easily a volume of material can be penetrated by a beam of light, sound, particles, or other energy or matter. A coefficient value that is large represents a beam becoming 'attenuated' as it passes through a given medium, while a small value represents that the medium had little effect on loss. The SI unit of attenuation coefficient is the reciprocal metre (m−1). Extinction coefficient is another term for this quantity, often used in meteorology and climatology. Most commonly, the quantity measures the exponential decay of intensity, that is, the value of downward e-folding distance of the original intensity as the energy of the intensity passes through a unit (e.g. one meter) thickness of material, so that an attenuation coefficient of 1 m−1 means that after passing through 1 metre, the radiation will be reduced by a factor of e, and for material with a coefficient of 2 m−1, it will be reduced twice by e, or e2. Other measures may use a different factor than e, such as the decadic attenuation coefficient below. The broad-beam attenuation coefficient counts forward-scattered radiation as transmitted rather than attenuated, and is more applicable to radiation shielding.
The attenuation coefficient describes the extent to which the radiant flux of a beam is reduced as it passes through a specific material. It is used in the context of:
- X-rays or gamma rays, where it is denoted μ and measured in cm−1;
- neutrons and nuclear reactors, where it is called macroscopic cross section (although actually it is not a section dimensionally speaking), denoted Σ and measured in m−1;
- ultrasound attenuation, where it is denoted α and measured in dB⋅cm−1⋅MHz−1;
- acoustics for characterizing particle size distribution, where it is denoted α and measured in m−1.
The attenuation coefficient is called the "extinction coefficient" in the context of
- solar and infrared radiative transfer in the atmosphere, albeit usually denoted with another symbol (given the standard use of μ = cos θ for slant paths);
A small attenuation coefficient indicates that the material in question is relatively transparent, while a larger value indicates greater degrees of opacity. The attenuation coefficient is dependent upon the type of material and the energy of the radiation. Generally, for electromagnetic radiation, the higher the energy of the incident photons and the less dense the material in question, the lower the corresponding attenuation coefficient will be.
The attenuation coefficient of a volume, denoted μ, is defined as
- Φe is the radiant flux;
- z is the path length of the beam.
Spectral hemispherical attenuation coefficient
The spectral hemispherical attenuation coefficient in frequency and spectral hemispherical attenuation coefficient in wavelength of a volume, denoted μν and μλ respectively, are defined as:
Directional attenuation coefficient
The directional attenuation coefficient of a volume, denoted μΩ, is defined as
where Le,Ω is the radiance.
Spectral directional attenuation coefficient
The spectral directional attenuation coefficient in frequency and spectral directional attenuation coefficient in wavelength of a volume, denoted μΩ,ν and μΩ,λ respectively, are defined as
Absorption and scattering coefficients
When a narrow (collimated) beam passes through a volume, the beam will lose intensity due to two processes: absorption and scattering. Absorption indicates energy that is lost from the beam, while scattering indicates light that is redirected in a (random) direction, and hence is no longer in the beam, but still present, resulting in diffuse light.
The absorption coefficient of a volume, denoted μa, and the scattering coefficient of a volume, denoted μs, are defined the same way as the attenuation coefficient.
The attenuation coefficient of a volume is the sum of absorption coefficient and scattering coefficients:
Just looking at the narrow beam itself, the two processes cannot be distinguished. However, if a detector is set up to measure beam leaving in different directions, or conversely using a non-narrow beam, one can measure how much of the lost radiant flux was scattered, and how much was absorbed.
In this context, the "absorption coefficient" measures how quickly the beam would lose radiant flux due to the absorption alone, while "attenuation coefficient" measures the total loss of narrow-beam intensity, including scattering as well. "Narrow-beam attenuation coefficient" always unambiguously refers to the latter. The attenuation coefficient is at least as large as the absorption coefficient; they are equal in the idealized case of no scattering.
Mass attenuation, absorption, and scattering coefficients
The mass attenuation coefficient, mass absorption coefficient, and mass scattering coefficient are defined as
where ρm is the mass density.
Napierian and decadic attenuation coefficients
Engineering applications often express attenuation in the logarithmic units of decibels, or "dB", where 10 dB represents attenuation by a factor of 10. The units for attenuation coefficient are thus dB/m (or, in general, dB per unit distance). Note that in logarithmic units such as dB, the attenuation is a linear function of distance, rather than exponential. This has the advantage that the result of multiple attenuation layers can be found by simply adding up the dB loss for each individual passage. However, if intensity is desired, the logarithms must be converted back into linear units by using an exponential:
The decadic attenuation coefficient or decadic narrow beam attenuation coefficient, denoted μ10, is defined as
Just as the usual attenuation coefficient measures the number of e-fold reductions that occur over a unit length of material, this coefficient measures how many 10-fold reductions occur: a decadic coefficient of 1 m−1 means 1 m of material reduces the radiation once by a factor of 10.
μ is sometimes called Napierian attenuation coefficient or Napierian narrow beam attenuation coefficient rather than just simply "attenuation coefficient". The terms "decadic" and "Napierian" come from the base used for the exponential in the Beer–Lambert law for a material sample, in which the two attenuation coefficients take part:
- T is the transmittance of the material sample;
- ℓ is the path length of the beam of light through the material sample.
In case of uniform attenuation, these relations become
- σi is the attenuation cross section of the attenuating species i in the material sample;
- ni is the number density of the attenuating species i in the material sample;
- εi is the molar attenuation coefficient of the attenuating species i in the material sample;
- ci is the amount concentration of the attenuating species i in the material sample,
by definition of attenuation cross section and molar attenuation coefficient.
Attenuation cross section and molar attenuation coefficient are related by
and number density and amount concentration by
where NA is the Avogadro constant.
The half-value layer (HVL) is the thickness of a layer of material required to reduce the radiant flux of the transmitted radiation to half its incident magnitude. The half-value layer is about 69% (ln 2) of the penetration depth. Engineers use these equations predict how much shielding thickness is required to attenuate radiation to acceptable or regulatory limits.
Other radiometric coefficients
|Hemispherical emissivity||ε||—||Radiant exitance of a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.|
|Spectral hemispherical emissivity||εν
|—||Spectral exitance of a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.|
|Directional emissivity||εΩ||—||Radiance emitted by a surface, divided by that emitted by a black body at the same temperature as that surface.|
|Spectral directional emissivity||εΩ,ν
|—||Spectral radiance emitted by a surface, divided by that of a black body at the same temperature as that surface.|
|Hemispherical absorptance||A||—||Radiant flux absorbed by a surface, divided by that received by that surface. This should not be confused with "absorbance".|
|Spectral hemispherical absorptance||Aν
|—||Spectral flux absorbed by a surface, divided by that received by that surface. This should not be confused with "spectral absorbance".|
|Directional absorptance||AΩ||—||Radiance absorbed by a surface, divided by the radiance incident onto that surface. This should not be confused with "absorbance".|
|Spectral directional absorptance||AΩ,ν
|—||Spectral radiance absorbed by a surface, divided by the spectral radiance incident onto that surface. This should not be confused with "spectral absorbance".|
|Hemispherical reflectance||R||—||Radiant flux reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Spectral hemispherical reflectance||Rν
|—||Spectral flux reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Directional reflectance||RΩ||—||Radiance reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Spectral directional reflectance||RΩ,ν
|—||Spectral radiance reflected by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Hemispherical transmittance||T||—||Radiant flux transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Spectral hemispherical transmittance||Tν
|—||Spectral flux transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Directional transmittance||TΩ||—||Radiance transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Spectral directional transmittance||TΩ,ν
|—||Spectral radiance transmitted by a surface, divided by that received by that surface.|
|Hemispherical attenuation coefficient||μ||m−1||Radiant flux absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.|
|Spectral hemispherical attenuation coefficient||μν
|m−1||Spectral radiant flux absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.|
|Directional attenuation coefficient||μΩ||m−1||Radiance absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.|
|Spectral directional attenuation coefficient||μΩ,ν
|m−1||Spectral radiance absorbed and scattered by a volume per unit length, divided by that received by that volume.|
- Absorption (electromagnetic radiation)
- Absorption cross section
- Absorption spectrum
- Acoustic attenuation
- Attenuation length
- Beer–Lambert law
- Cargo scanning
- Compton edge
- Compton scattering
- Computation of radiowave attenuation in the atmosphere
- Cross section (physics)
- Grey atmosphere
- High-energy X-rays
- Mass attenuation coefficient
- Mean free path
- Propagation constant
- Radiation length
- Scattering theory
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- Serway, Raymond; Moses, Clement; Moyer, Curt (2005). Modern Physics. California, USA: Brooks/Cole. p. 529. ISBN 978-0-534-49339-4.
- "2nd Edition of the Glossary of Meteorology". American Meteorological Society. Retrieved 2015-11-03.
- ISO 20998-1:2006 "Measurement and characterization of particles by acoustic methods"
- Dukhin, A.S. and Goetz, P.J. "Ultrasound for characterizing colloids", Elsevier, 2002
- "Thermal insulation — Heat transfer by radiation — Physical quantities and definitions". ISO 9288:1989. ISO catalogue. 1989. Retrieved 2015-03-15.
- Absorption Coefficients α of Building Materials and Finishes
- Sound Absorption Coefficients for Some Common Materials
- Tables of X-Ray Mass Attenuation Coefficients and Mass Energy-Absorption Coefficients from 1 keV to 20 MeV for Elements Z = 1 to 92 and 48 Additional Substances of Dosimetric Interest
- IUPAC, Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book") (1997). Online corrected version: (2006–) "Absorption coefficient". doi:10.1351/goldbook.A00037