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absorption [Lat.,=sucking from], taking of molecules of one substance directly into another substance. It is contrasted with adsorption, in which the molecules adhere only to the surface of the second substance. Absorption may be either a physical or a chemical process, physical absorption involving such factors as solubility and vapor-pressure relationships and chemical absorption involving chemical reactions between the absorbed substance and the absorbing medium.
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Absorption (biology)

The net movement (transport) of water and solutes from outside an organism to its interior. The unidirectional flow of materials into an animal from the environment generally takes place across the alimentary tract, the lungs, or the skin, and in each location a specific cell layer called an epithelium regulates the passage of materials.

Absorption across epithelia may occur by several different passive and active processes. Simple diffusion is the net movement of molecules from the apical to basolateral surfaces of an epithelium down chemical and electrical gradients without the requirement of cellular energy sources. Facilitated diffusion across the epithelium is similar to simple diffusion in that energy is not required, but in this process, molecular interaction with protein binding sites (carriers) in one or both membranes must occur to facilitate the transfer. Active molecular transport involves the use of membrane protein carriers as well as cellular energy supplies to move a transported molecule up an electrochemical gradient across the epithelium. Endocytosis and phagocytosis are also examples of active transport because metabolic energy is required, but in these processes whole regions of the cell membrane are used to engulf fluid or particles, rather than to bring about molecular transfer using single-membrane proteins. See Cell membranes, Endocytosis, Osmoregulatory mechanisms, Phagocytosis

Although a wide variety of ions are absorbed by different types of epithelial cells, the mechanisms of Na+ and Cl- transport in mammalian small intestine are perhaps best known in detail. Transepithelial transport of these two ions occurs in this tissue by three independent processes: active Na+ absorption, not coupled directly to the flow of other solutes but accompanied indirectly by the diffusional absorption of Cl-; coupled NaCl absorption; and cotransport of Na+ with a wide variety of nutrient molecules. See Ion transport

Net water transport across the epithelium is coupled to net ion transport in the same direction. Pump sites for Na+ are believed to be located along the lateral borders of epithelial cells. Energy-dependent Na+ efflux from the cells to the intercellular spaces creates a local increase in osmotic pressure within these small compartments. An osmotic pressure gradient becomes established here, with greatest solute concentrations located nearest the tight junctions. Water flows into the cell across the brush border membrane and out the lateral membranes in response to the increased osmotic pressure in the paracellular spaces. Once water is in the intercellular compartment, a buildup of hydrostatic pressure forces the transported fluid to the capillary network.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


The conversion of all or part of the energy incident on a material medium into some other form of energy within the medium. For example, part of the energy of incident light or infrared radiation may be used in exciting the atoms or molecules of the absorbing substance.
Collins Dictionary of Astronomy © Market House Books Ltd, 2006


The process by which incident light energy is converted to another form of energy, usually heat.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(resorption), the passage of various substances through the cellular elements of tissues into the blood and lymph. Absorption takes place primarily in the digestive tract, as well as from the cavity of the lungs, pleura, uterus, and urinary bladder and from the surface of the skin.

Water, salts, and some other substances (glucose and vitamins) are absorbed without preliminary change. Absorption—the active transport of most nutrients through the mucous membrane of the digestive tract into the blood and lymph—occurs after the nutrients have been converted by enzymatic action into simpler compounds, capable of passing through the layer of epithelial cells. The substances move as a result of physical processes (diffusion and osmosis), as well as by active transport against the concentration and electrochemical gradient, which is accompanied by an expenditure of energy. After they have been absorbed into the blood and lymph, substances are carried to all the organs and tissues, where they are used in the energy and plastic processes.

Absorption in the digestive tract of man and vertebrate animals takes place primarily through the intestinal villi and the microvilli of the epithelial cells. Intracellular structures (mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, and endoplasmic reticulum) are involved in absorption. Carbohydrates and proteins are absorbed after they are split into monosaccharides and amino acids, respectively. The phosphorylation process promotes the absorption of amino acids and sugars. Fats (triglycerides) are absorbed after they have been gradually split into di- and monoglycerides, then glycerol and fatty acids. Glycerol is readily absorbed, but the fatty acids are not absorbed until they form a complex compound with bile acids. This complex breaks down in the cells of the mucous membrane. The fatty acids are converted to neutral fat, and the bile acids return to the intestinal lumen to transport new portions of fatty acids (well-emulsified fat; for example, milk can be partly absorbed even without splitting). Water, salts, vitamins, and other substances are also actively absorbed in other parts of the digestive tract, with the expenditure of energy. Reverse absorption occurs in the secretory and excretory organs. For example, during the formation of urine there is reverse absorption of water in the renal tubules. Absorption is regulated by neural and humoral-hormonal mechanisms.

Impairment of absorption results in exhaustion of the organism, primarily because of the absence of certain enzymes and transmitters that take part in the absorption of nutrients. Some cases of impairment of absorption are genetic (hereditary). They can be corrected by introducing a number of enzymes, vitamins, salts, and other substances into the organism. Data on the process of absorption are taken into account in working out diets for man and preparing nutrient mixtures for artificial feeding.


Skliarov, la. P. Vsasyvatel’naia rabotosposobnost’ tonkogo kishechnika. [Kiev] 1966.
Faitel’berg, R. O. Vsasyvanie uglevodov, belkov i zhirov v kishechnike. Leningrad, 1967.
Ugolev, A. M. Fiziologiia i patologiia pristenochnogo (kontaktnogo) pishchevareniia. Leningrad, 1967.
Wiseman, G. Absorption From the Intestine. London, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The net movement (transport) of water and solutes from outside a cell or an organism to the interior.
The taking up of matter in bulk by other matter, as in dissolving of a gas by a liquid.
The property of a dielectric in a capacitor which causes a small charging current to flow after the plates have been brought up to the final potential, and a small discharging current to flow after the plates have been short-circuited, allowed to stand for a few minutes, and short-circuited again. Also known as dielectric soak.
Taking up of energy from radiation by the medium through which the radiation is passing.
Entrance of surface water into the lithosphere.
Removal of antibodies from an antiserum by addition of antigen.
Removal of antigens from a mixture by addition of antibodies.
The process by which the quantity of particles entering a body is reduced by their interaction with the matter.
Passage of a chemical substance, a pathogen, or radiant energy through a body membrane.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Either the taking up of matter in bulk by other matter, as in the dissolving of a gas by a liquid; or the taking up of energy from radiation by the medium through which the radiation is passing. In the first case, an absorption coefficient is defined as the amount of gas dissolved at standard conditions by a unit volume of the solvent. Absorption in this sense is a volume effect: The absorbed substance permeates the whole of the absorber. In absorption of the second type, attenuation is produced which in many cases follows Lambert's law and adds to the effects of scattering if the latter is present.

Absorption of electromagnetic radiation can occur in several ways. For example, microwaves in a waveguide lose energy to the walls of the guide. For nonperfect conductors, the wave penetrates the guide surface and energy in the wave is transferred to the atoms of the guide. Light is absorbed by atoms of the medium through which it passes, and in some cases this absorption is quite distinctive. Selected frequencies from a heterochromatic source are strongly absorbed, as in the absorption spectrum of the Sun. Electromagnetic radiation can be absorbed by the photoelectric effect, where the light quantum is absorbed and an electron of the absorbing atom is ejected, and also by Compton scattering. Electron-positron pairs may be created by the absorption of a photon of sufficiently high energy. Photons can be absorbed by photoproduction of nuclear and subnuclear particles, analogous to the photoelectric effect.

Sound waves are absorbed at suitable frequencies by particles suspended in the air (wavelength of the order of the particle size), where the sound energy is transformed into vibrational energy of the absorbing particles.

Absorption of energy from a beam of particles can occur by the ionization process, where an electron in the medium through which the beam passes is removed by the beam particles. The finite range of protons and alpha particles in matter is a result of this process. In the case of low-energy electrons, scattering is as important as ionization, so that range is a less well-defined concept. Particles themselves may be absorbed from a beam. For example, in a nuclear reaction an incident particle X is absorbed into nucleus Y, and the result may be that another particle Z, or a photon, or particle X with changed energy comes out. Low-energy positrons are quickly absorbed by annihilating with electrons in matter to yield two gamma rays.

In the chemical process industries and in related areas such as petroleum refining and fuels purification, absorption usually means gas absorption. This is a unit operation in which a gas (or vapor) mixture is contacted with a liquid solvent selected to preferentially absorb one, or in some cases more than one, component from the mixture. The purpose is either to recover a desired component from a gas mixture or to rid the mixture of an impurity. In the latter case, the operation is often referred to as scrubbing.

When the operation is employed in reverse, that is, when a gas is utilized to extract a component from a liquid mixture, it is referred to as gas desorption, stripping, or sparging.

In gas absorption, either no further changes occur to the gaseous component once it is absorbed in the liquid solvent, or the absorbed component (solute) will become involved in a chemical reaction with the solvent in the liquid phase. In the former case, the operation is referred to as physical gas absorption, and in the latter case as gas absorption with chemical reaction. See Gas absorption operations, Unit operations

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. The process by which a liquid, or a mixture of gases and liquid, is drawn into and tends to fill permeable pores in a porous solid material; usually accompanied by a physical change, chemical change, or both, of the material.
2. The increase in weight of a porous solid body resulting from the penetration of liquid into its permeable pores.
3. The increase in weight of a brick or tile unit when immersed in either cold or boiling water for a stated length of time; expressed as a percentage of the weight of the dry unit.
4. The process by which radiant energy, which is incident on a surface, is converted to other forms of energy.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Physiol
a. normal assimilation by the tissues of the products of digestion
b. the passage of a gas, fluid, drug, etc., through the mucous membranes or skin
2. Physics a reduction of the intensity of any form of radiated energy as a result of energy conversion in a medium, such as the conversion of sound energy into heat
3. Immunol the process of removing superfluous antibodies or antigens from a mixture using a reagent
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