Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, biomolecules or molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate (the molecules or atoms being accumulated) on the surface of the adsorbent. It differs from absorption, in which a fluid permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while desorption is the reverse of adsorption. It is a surface phenomenon.
Similar to surface tension, adsorption is a consequence of surface energy. In a bulk material, all the bonding requirements (be they ionic, covalent, or metallic) of the constituent atoms of the material are filled by other atoms in the material. However, atoms on the surface of the adsorbent are not wholly surrounded by other adsorbent atoms and therefore can attract adsorbates. The exact nature of the bonding depends on the details of the species involved, but the adsorption process is generally classified as physisorption (characteristic of weak van der Waals forces) or chemisorption (characteristic of covalent bonding). It may also occur due to electrostatic attraction.
Adsorption is present in many natural physical, biological, and chemical systems, and is widely used in industrial applications such as activated charcoal, capturing and using waste heat to provide cold water for air conditioning and other process requirements (adsorption chillers), synthetic resins, increase storage capacity of carbide-derived carbons for tunable nanoporous carbon, and water purification. Adsorption, ion exchange, and chromatography are sorption processes in which certain adsorbates are selectively transferred from the fluid phase to the surface of insoluble, rigid particles suspended in a vessel or packed in a column. Lesser known, are the pharmaceutical industry applications as a means to prolong neurological exposure to specific drugs or parts thereof.