Effusion and Diffusion of Gases


Related Posts:

In this figure, three pairs of gas filled spheres or vessels are shown connected with a stopcock between them. In a, the figure is labeled, “Stopcock closed.” Above, the left sphere is labeled, “H subscript 2.” It contains approximately 30 small, white, evenly distributed circles. The sphere to its right is labeled, “O subscript 2.” It contains approximately 30 small red evenly distributed circles. In b, the figure is labeled, “Stopcock open.” The stopcock valve handle is now parallel to the tube connecting the two spheres. On the left, approximately 9 small, white circles and 4 small, red circles are present, with the red spheres appearing slightly closer to the stopcock. On the right side, approximately 25 small, red spheres and 21 small, white spheres are present, with the concentration of white spheres slightly greater near the stopcock. In c, the figure is labeled “Some time after Stopcock open.” In this situation, the red and white spheres appear evenly mixed and uniformly distributed throughout both spheres.
Figure 1. (a) Two gases, H2 and O2, are initially separated. (b) When the stopcock is opened, they mix together. The lighter gas, H2, passes through the opening faster than O2, so just after the stopcock is opened, more H2 molecules move to the O2 side than O2 molecules move to the H2 side. (c) After a short time, both the slower-moving O2 molecules and the faster-moving H2 molecules have distributed themselves evenly on both sides of the vessel. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

OpenStax Chemistry 2e

If you have ever been in a room when a piping hot pizza was delivered, you have been made aware of the fact that gaseous molecules can quickly spread throughout a room, as evidenced by the pleasant aroma that soon reaches your nose. Although gaseous molecules travel at tremendous speeds (hundreds of meters per second), they collide with other gaseous molecules and travel in many different directions before reaching the desired target. At room temperature, a gaseous molecule will experience billions of collisions per second. The mean free path is the average distance a molecule travels between collisions. The mean free path increases with decreasing pressure; in general, the mean free path for a gaseous molecule will be hundreds of times the diameter of the molecule

In general, we know that when a sample of gas is introduced to one part of a closed container, its molecules very quickly disperse throughout the container; this process by which molecules disperse in space in response to differences in concentration is called diffusion. The gaseous atoms or molecules are, of course, unaware of any concentration gradient, they simply move randomly—regions of higher concentration have more particles than regions of lower concentrations, and so a net movement of species from high to low concentration areas takes place. In a closed environment, diffusion will ultimately result in equal concentrations of gas throughout, as depicted in Figure 1. The gaseous atoms and molecules continue to move, but since their concentrations are the same in both bulbs, the rates of transfer between the bulbs are equal (no net transfer of molecules occurs).

We are often interested in the rate of diffusion, the amount of gas passing through some area per unit time:

The diffusion rate depends on several factors: the concentration gradient (the increase or decrease in concentration from one point to another); the amount of surface area available for diffusion; and the distance the gas particles must travel. Note also that the time required for diffusion to occur is inversely proportional to the rate of diffusion, as shown in the rate of diffusion equation.

A process involving movement of gaseous species similar to diffusion is effusion, the escape of gas molecules through a tiny hole such as a pinhole in a balloon into a vacuum (Figure 2). Although diffusion and effusion rates both depend on the molar mass of the gas involved, their rates are not equal; however, the ratios of their rates are the same.

This figure contains two cylindrical containers which are oriented horizontally. The first is labeled “Diffusion.” In this container, approximately 25 purple and 25 green circles are shown, evenly distributed throughout the container. “Trails” behind some of the circles indicate motion. In the second container, which is labeled “Effusion,” a boundary layer is evident across the center of the cylindrical container, dividing the cylinder into two halves. A black arrow is drawn pointing through this boundary from left to right. To the left of the boundary, approximately 16 green circles and 20 purple circles are shown again with motion indicated by “trails” behind some of the circles. To the right of the boundary, only 4 purple and 16 green circles are shown.
Figure 2. Diffusion involves the unrestricted dispersal of molecules throughout space due to their random motion. When this process is restricted to passage of molecules through very small openings in a physical barrier, the process is called effusion. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

If a mixture of gases is placed in a container with porous walls, the gases effuse through the small openings in the walls. The lighter gases pass through the small openings more rapidly (at a higher rate) than the heavier ones (Figure 3). In 1832, Thomas Graham studied the rates of effusion of different gases and formulated Graham’s law of effusion: The rate of effusion of a gas is inversely proportional to the square root of the mass of its particles:

This means that if two gases A and B are at the same temperature and pressure, the ratio of their effusion rates is inversely proportional to the ratio of the square roots of the masses of their particles:

This figure shows two photos. The first photo shows an inflated orange balloon and an inflated blue balloon. Both balloons are about the same size. The second photo shows the same two balloons, but the orange one is now smaller than the blue one.
Figure 3. The left photograph shows two balloons inflated with different gases, helium (orange) and argon (blue).The right-side photograph shows the balloons approximately 12 hours after being filled, at which time the helium balloon has become noticeably more deflated than the argon balloon, due to the greater effusion rate of the lighter helium gas. (credit: modification of work by Paul Flowers)


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e


Related Research

Research Article: Clinical Importance of Angiogenic Cytokines, Fibrinolytic Activity and Effusion Size in Parapneumonic Effusions

Date Published: January 7, 2013 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Chi-Li Chung, Shih-Hsin Hsiao, George Hsiao, Joen-Rong Sheu, Wei-Lin Chen, Shi-Chuan Chang, T. Mark Doherty. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0053169 Abstract: To investigate the relationship among angiogenic cytokines, fibrinolytic activity and effusion size in parapneumonic effusion (PPE) and their clinical importance. From January 2008 through December 2010, 26 uncomplicated … Continue reading

Research Article: The diagnostic value of pleural fluid homocysteine in malignant pleural effusion

Date Published: September 24, 2019 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Jose D. Santotoribio, Luis del Valle-Vazquez, Angela García-de la Torre, Daniel del Castillo-Otero, Juan-Bosco Lopez-Saez, Maria J. Sanchez del Pino, Luka Brcic. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222616 Abstract: Pleural fluid homocysteine (HCY) can be useful for diagnosis of malignant pleural effusion (MPE). There are no published studies comparing … Continue reading

Research Article: The pathogens profile in children with otitis media with effusion and adenoid hypertrophy

Date Published: February 23, 2017 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): G. P. Buzatto, E. Tamashiro, J. L. Proenca-Modena, T. H. Saturno, M. C. Prates, T. B. Gagliardi, L. R. Carenzi, E. T. Massuda, M. A. Hyppolito, F. C. P. Valera, E. Arruda, W. T. Anselmo-Lima, R. Mark Wooten. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171049 Abstract: To evaluate the presence … Continue reading

Research Article: Lumican Is Overexpressed in Lung Adenocarcinoma Pleural Effusions

Date Published: May 11, 2015 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Rocco Cappellesso, Renato Millioni, Giorgio Arrigoni, Francesca Simonato, Brasilina Caroccia, Elisabetta Iori, Vincenza Guzzardo, Laura Ventura, Paolo Tessari, Ambrogio Fassina, Prasad S. Adusumilli. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0126458 Abstract: Adenocarcinoma (AdC) is the most common lung cancer subtype and is often associated with pleural effusion (PE). Its poor … Continue reading