Attenuation coefficient

Attenuation Coefficient

Attenuation coefficient

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For "attenuation coefficient" as it applies to electromagnetic theory and telecommunications see propagation constant. For the "mass attenuation coefficient", see the article mass attenuation coefficient.

The attenuation coefficient is a quantity that characterizes how easily a material or medium can be penetrated by a beam of light, sound, particles, or other energy or matter. A large attenuation coefficient means that the beam is quickly "attenuated" (weakened) as it passes through the medium, and a small attenuation coefficient means that the medium is relatively transparent to the beam. Attenuation coefficient is measured using units of reciprocal length.

The attenuation coefficient is also called linear attenuation coefficient, narrow beam attenuation coefficient, or absorption coefficient. Although all four terms are often used interchangeably, they can occasionally have a subtle distinction, as explained below.


The attenuation coefficient describes the extent to which the intensity of an energy beam is reduced as it passes through a specific material. This might be a beam of electromagnetic radiation or sound.
  • It is used in the context of X-rays or Gamma rays, where it is represented using the symbol <math>mu</math>, and measured in cm<sup>−1</sup>.
  • It is also used for modeling solar and infrared radiative transfer in the atmosphere, albeit usually denoted with another symbol (given the standard use......
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