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Diffusion is the net movement of molecules or atoms from a region of high

concentration (or high chemical potential) to a region of low concentration (or

low chemical potential). This is also referred to as the movement of a
substance down a concentration gradient. A gradient is the change in the
value of a quantity (e.g., concentration, pressure, temperature) with the
change in another variable (usually distance). For example, a change in
concentration over a distance is called a concentration gradient, a change in
pressure over a distance is called a pressure gradient, and a change in
temperature over a distance is a called a temperature gradient.
The word diffusion is derived from the Latin word, "diffundere", which means
"to spread out" (if a substance is spreading out, it is moving from an area of
high concentration to an area of low concentration). A distinguishing feature
of diffusion is that it results in mixing or mass transport, without requiring
bulk motion (bulk flow). Thus, diffusion should not be confused with
convection, or advection, which are other transport phenomena that utilize
bulk motion to move particles from one place to another.
Diffusion refers to the process by which molecules intermingle as a result of
their kinetic energy of random motion. Consider two containers of gas A and
B separated by a partition. The molecules of both gases are in constant
motion and make numerous collisions with the partition. If the partition is
removed as in the lower illustration, the gases will mix because of the
random velocities of their molecules. In time a uniform mixture of A and B
molecules will be produced in the container.

The tendency toward diffusion is very strong even at room temperature

because of the high molecular velocities associated with the thermal energy
of the particles.
Since the average kinetic energy of different types of molecules (different
masses) which are at thermal equilibrium is the same, then their average
velocities are different. Their average diffusion rate is expected to depend
upon that average velocity, which gives a relative diffusion rate

where the constant K depends upon geometric factors including the area
across which the diffusion is occuring. The relative diffusion rate for two

different molecular species is then given by


Spontaneous movement of particles from an area of high concentration to an

area of low concentration
Does not require energy (exergonic)
Occurs via random kinetic movement
Net diffusion stops when concentration on both sides equal (if crossing a
membrane) or when there is a uniform distribution of particles
Equilibrium is reached
Molecules continue to move, but no net change in concentration (hence the
phase "net diffusion" above
Diffusion of one compound is independent to diffusion of other compounds
Factors Affecting Diffusion Across a Plasma Membrane

Diffusion directly through lipid bilayer

The greater the lipid solubility of the diffusing particle, the more permeable
the membrane will be
All else being equal, smaller particles will diffuse more rapidly than larger
O2, H2O, CO2 rapidly diffuse across lipid bilayer
Diffusion of Hydrophilic Molecules Across a Plasma Membrane
Plasma membrane is semipermeable
Water, while polar, is small enough to freely move across the plasma
Larger hydrophilic uncharged molecules, such as sugars, do not freely diffuse
(they can diffuse, but it is very slow)
Charged molecules cannot diffuse through lipid bilayer
Ion channels and specific transporters are required for charged molecules and

larger, uncharged molecules

Osmosis, the Passive Transport of Water

Osmosis = the diffusion of water across a semi-permeable membrane

Plasma membrane permeable to water but not to solute
Solute = dissolved particle
Solvent = liquid medium in which particles may be dissolved
If a solute does not readily cross a plasma membrane, it is called an
osmotically active solute
Water moves from solution with lower concentration of osmotically active
solutes (i.e. the concentration of water is high) to solution with higher
concentration of osmotically active solutes (i.e. the concentration of water is
Water moves from dilute solution to concentrated solution
Osmotic potential is the total of all dissolved particles