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Molar Absorptivity vs. Specific Absorbance: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 9, 2023
Molar absorptivity quantifies how strongly a chemical species absorbs light at a particular wavelength, per mole concentration, while specific absorbance refers to the absorbance of a solution per unit concentration and path length.

Key Differences

Molar absorptivity, also known as molar extinction coefficient, is a measure of how well a substance absorbs light at a specific wavelength, related to its molar concentration. Specific absorbance, on the other hand, is the absorbance of a solution normalized to the concentration of the absorbing species and the path length through which the light passes. Both concepts are central in spectrophotometry.
Molar absorptivity is expressed in units of L mol^-1 cm^-1, indicating the absorbance of a 1 M solution in a cuvette with a 1 cm path length. Specific absorbance is dimensionless and calculated as the absorbance divided by concentration (in g/L) and path length (in cm). This distinction is crucial for accurate interpretation of spectrophotometric data.
In chemistry, molar absorptivity helps determine the concentration of an unknown substance in a solution using Beer-Lambert law. Specific absorbance is used to characterize substances based on their unique absorption profiles, especially in quality control and compound identification.
Both terms are related to the Beer-Lambert law, but they differ in their application. Molar absorptivity is a constant for a given substance at a specific wavelength, fundamental in calculating concentrations. Specific absorbance, while also derived from the Beer-Lambert law, is more focused on the absorbance characteristics of a solution without directly implying a molar concentration.
Molar absorptivity is vital in quantitative analysis for determining the concentration of analytes, whereas specific absorbance is more qualitative, giving insights into the nature of the absorbing species in a solution. Both play key roles in various analytical techniques and are essential for interpreting spectrophotometric data accurately.

Comparison Chart


Absorbance per mole concentration
Absorbance per unit concentration and path length


L mol^-1 cm^-1


Quantitative analysis of substance concentration
Qualitative analysis of solution properties

Relation to Beer-Lambert Law

Directly proportional to concentration
Normalized to both concentration and path length

Analytical Focus

Concentration determination
Substance characterization

Molar Absorptivity and Specific Absorbance Definitions

Molar Absorptivity

Molar absorptivity quantifies a substance's ability to absorb light at a certain wavelength in relation to its molar concentration.
A high molar absorptivity indicates a substance's strong light absorption capacity.

Specific Absorbance

The property of a material that quantifies its ability to absorb light per unit concentration and path length.
By calculating the specific absorbance, we could accurately deduce the concentration of the dye in water.

Molar Absorptivity

It represents the intrinsic light-absorbing capability of a molecule.
Molar absorptivity helps in understanding the electronic transitions in a molecule.

Specific Absorbance

The characteristic of a compound that defines how much light it absorbs, standardized by concentration.
We compared the specific absorbance of different pigments to understand their light-absorbing properties.

Molar Absorptivity

Molar absorptivity measures how much light is absorbed by a mole of a substance.
In a reaction, changes in molar absorptivity can indicate the formation of a new product.

Specific Absorbance

A unit used in chemistry to describe a substance's light absorption characteristics, normalized for concentration.
The specific absorbance values helped us to differentiate between the two chemically similar substances.

Molar Absorptivity

Molar absorptivity reflects the efficiency of a substance in absorbing photons at a specific wavelength.
The high molar absorptivity of chlorophyll aids in efficient photosynthesis.

Specific Absorbance

A measure of how well a substance absorbs light at a particular wavelength, relative to its concentration.
The specific absorbance of the solution was determined at a wavelength of 450 nm to assess its concentration.

Molar Absorptivity

It is the proportionality constant in the Beer-Lambert law, relating absorbance to concentration.
The molar absorptivity of a compound is essential for accurate concentration measurements in spectrophotometry.

Specific Absorbance

A key parameter in spectrophotometry representing the absorbance of a substance per unit concentration.
The experiment's success depended on accurately measuring the specific absorbance of the sample at 600 nm.


How is molar absorptivity used?

It's used in spectrophotometry to determine the concentration of substances in a solution.

Is molar absorptivity the same for all substances?

No, it differs from substance to substance.

What is molar absorptivity?

It's a measure of how strongly a chemical species absorbs light at a given wavelength, per mole concentration.

Is molar absorptivity affected by temperature?

Yes, temperature changes can affect the molar absorptivity of substances.

What does a high molar absorptivity indicate?

It indicates a substance is highly effective at absorbing light at a specific wavelength.

What does specific absorbance indicate?

It indicates how much light a substance absorbs, standardized by its mass concentration.

How do you calculate molar absorptivity?

It's calculated using the formula: Absorbance = Molar absorptivity × Path length × Concentration.

What units are used for molar absorptivity?

It's typically measured in liters per mole-centimeter (L mol-1 cm-1).

What is specific absorbance?

It measures the light absorbance of a substance per unit mass concentration.

Can molar absorptivity vary?

Yes, it varies with wavelength and the chemical nature of the substance.

Can molar absorptivity be used to identify substances?

Yes, it can help in identifying substances based on their light absorption properties.

How is specific absorbance calculated?

By dividing absorbance by the concentration (in g/L) and path length (in cm).

Is specific absorbance useful in pharmaceuticals?

Yes, it's used to determine the concentration of drugs and active ingredients.

Can specific absorbance be used in quality control?

Yes, it's often used in quality control to ensure consistency in product composition.

What factors affect specific absorbance?

Factors like solvent, temperature, and wavelength can affect specific absorbance.

What's the difference between molar and specific absorptivity?

Molar absorptivity is based on mole concentration, while specific absorptivity is based on mass concentration.

How is specific absorbance different from absorbance?

Absorbance measures total light absorption, while specific absorbance normalizes this by concentration.

Is specific absorbance constant?

It's constant for a substance at a given wavelength and under consistent conditions.

How does specific absorbance relate to Beer's Law?

It's a derivative of Beer's Law, focusing on mass concentration rather than molar concentration.

Can specific absorbance be used for mixtures?

It can be challenging for mixtures, as it requires the absorbance characteristics of each component.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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