Main content

## Health and medicine

# Fick's law of diffusion

Fick's law describes the movement of particles over time. There are a few strategies for maximizing particle movement, such as minimizing the distance the particles have to travel, using smaller molecules, increasing pressure, and increasing surface area. Fick's law can be expressed as an equation, but it is sometimes written in different forms. Created by Rishi Desai.

## Want to join the conversation?

- First things first. This video is just awesome, it truly gave me a very intuitive understanding of how Fick's Law Of Diffusion works! Thank you very much! I'm now a very happy engineering student :-)

Now my question is....`What are the usual applications of`

**Fick's Law of Diffusion**in science and engineering?(15 votes)- I'm a respiratory therapist (RRT) in Halifax, Canada, so can give you a medical perspective. Fick's Law is the foundation of a lot of what we do in respiratory therapy and medicine. If you consider the Alveolar Capillary membrane (the junction between alveolar gas, and pulmonary capillary blood), you see Fick's Law at work. The surface area of the lungs is enormous, around the size of a tennis court, this allows a huge amount of diffusion to take place. When we give oxygen to people who need it, we are increasing the partial pressure difference across the membrane (we are increasing the pressure gradient.... meaning more diffusion), that's how breathing higher concentrations of oxygen actually helps people. The diffusion coefficient of gases is important when comparing different gases in the lung. Let's take CO2 and O2. They are similar in molecular weight, but CO2 is about 20x more soluble than O2 in plasma, and therefore diffuses faster! This shows how the diffusion coefficient is important. Lastly, the thickness of the AC membrane is incredibly thin. This allows for very fast diffusion, because as Sal mentioned: Diffusion is inversely proportional to the thickness of the membrane. When this membrane becomes thickened (an example would be pulmonary fibrosis), diffusion is impaired, and the patients experience symptoms of poor diffusion (hypoxemia, hypoxia). Hope that helps!(57 votes)

- Is the dot over the letter (here, V) unique to Fick's law or will it be seen in other applications/formulas?(8 votes)
- The dot over the volume (V) denotes a rate. " A change in quantity over some time." It quite prevailant and ubiquitous throughout science, Various exmples are velocity, acceleration, and so forth. You'll see it thoughout your higher level scince classes in college, when variable beging to run-out.(10 votes)

- Can you explain how to derive diffusion constant (D) = "solubility"/sqrt(Molecular weight), and why?

Also please define "solubility". Are you referring to "Kh" (henry's law constant)?(8 votes) - Couldn't an increase in temperature also help diffuse the molecules faster?(5 votes)
- I believe that temperature affects D, the diffusion constant.

D=D_0e^(-Q_d/(RT))

where

D_0 is the temperature-independent pre-exponential

Q_d is the activation energy

R is the gas constant

T is the temperature

From Materials Science and Engineering : An Introduction(1 vote)

- At around7:20he said that "V is kind of the rate of particles moving and when I say rate you know that means that there's some time component" He then said that V may stand for volume here as well.

So my question is, does the variable V have units of time in it and what are the exact units of V?(3 votes)- In this case, for the example he used to derive Fick's law, it would be
**molecules/second**(or mols/second, if you'd like it to be).

More generally the units could be described as**amount/second**and so the*amount*in some applications could be a volume. I grant you this is quite confusing, though maybe not because of volume but because of*pressure*. It often isn't a traditional pressure like air pressure, which can affect volume. It can be a "diffusion pressure" formed from an unequal distribution of molecules that are trying to get from a place of high concentration to a place of low concentration.(5 votes)

- why he use P1-P2 to describe change in pressure.... Change in something (Pressure, volumen etc.) is not P2-P1..? this is an special case for this formula or a small mistake? Thaks(2 votes)
- This is a special case for this formula. P1 is designated as usually the "higher" pressure or else diffusion will not take place.(6 votes)

- In Fick's Law of Diffusion, V= (ΔP⋅A⋅D)/T

What are the conventional units that we usually use for the variables V, P, A, D, T?(3 votes)- Most general units of...
**V**: [amount] / [time] - (*rate of change*)**P**: [amount] / [length]^3 - (*quantity per volume*)**A**: [length]^2 - (*area*)**D**: [length]^2 / [time] - (*diffusion constant*)**T**: [length](4 votes)

- Is diffusion not temperature dependent? Does changing the temperature have any effect on diffusion?(3 votes)
- At 4.33, you have mentioned diffusion can be increased by increasing pressure. However, I believe that pressure and diffusion are inversely proportional. Could you please give me more precise details about it.

Thank you.(1 vote)- Why would pressure and diffusion be inversely proportional? If there is higher pressure I would expect greater diffusion, and vice versa.(3 votes)

- When was Fick's law first introduced?(1 vote)

## Video transcript

So I have a picture
for you of Adolf Fick. And this is probably the
second most well-known Adolf in history, but this Adolf was
well known for his science. He actually came up
with some fantastic laws that we use in all sorts
of different branches in science today. And we're going to talk about
one of his laws right now. So I drew for you
a little box, and I thought one of the most fun
ways to think about some of these laws that
Mr. Fick came up with was to do a little game. So I'm going to give
you a challenge. And the challenge
is that, let's say that you're a person
standing right here, maybe standing behind this box. And the part of the box that's
facing you, that's nearest you, is that blue wall that
I kind of shaded in. This blue wall is the
back wall of the box. And on the front
wall, I'm actually going to put in some
little molecules. Let's say there are some
molecules I'll put in, I don't know, let's say
three or four molecules here. And the challenge is
this, if a molecule gets from the front of the
box-- I'm going to call it one, this first side is
side one-- if it gets from side one, which is
here, over to side two, which is the back wall, if
it gets from side one to side two of the
box, then you get $5 for each particle
that makes it over. So to put that into words,
we're interested in the amount of particles that move
over some period of time. And that period of time can
be one hour or 10 hours, whatever period of time we want. But I'm going to-- just
for argument's sake, let's just say that we're
going to do this for one hour. So let's say I do it for
an hour and these molecules started moving around,
they're migrating around, because, of course,
they're bouncing, these molecules don't
stay stationary. And I come back, and it turns
out that only one molecule ever eventually made it
over to this side. So I say, hey, good
job, you get $5 because I promised that to you. And so of course
you get your $5, and you're happy
and smiling, right? But I'm feeling in a
generous mood, and I say, you know what, let's start
this experiment over. Let's just start over,
and this time I'm actually going to give you a
chance to tweak the experiment. You're going to
actually get a chance to modify the experiment. And you can do whatever
you want to try to maximize your profits. So think about this,
you want to try to maximize this right here. And how do you do that? How do you maximize the amount
of particles that make it to that blue wall over
some period of time? And I'm going to write your
good ideas down here, so start brainstorming some good
ideas for how you might want to tweak the game, or play the
game, to maximize your profits. Well, if you're
thinking about this, you might think, well, maybe
the first obvious thing is why do you make
this so darn far? Why not make it a
little bit closer? So let's get rid
of this back wall and scooch it nearer,
so that the molecules don't have to go so far. And that's a pretty good
idea it seems to me, right? So let's just make this
a little bit smaller. That's your first
idea, and I would say, that's a brilliant strategy. Now let's just make it half
the size, so it's less thick, and these molecules don't
have to go nearly as far. And actually, let me
maintain the blue wall so we can keep seeing properly
what this should look like. And this is going to
be dashed back here, and like that, and of
course the blue wall is going to look like that. So now you just basically
make it come closer and so the molecules don't
have to go nearly as far. So idea one is less thick wall. What's another idea? Well you remember
from Graham's law, we learned that these
molecules, the big ones, actually don't move. Their diffusion rate
is not as quick, and that it's the smaller
molecules that actually have a faster diffusion rate. So if I'm waiting
at that back wall to see how many
molecules can get over, I want tiny little molecules
to make their way over because they're going to
have a faster diffusion rate. When I say tiny, I really
mean smaller molecular weight. So small molecular
weight molecules, that's the second idea. Change up the molecules, make
the molecular weight smaller, and as Graham's law tells
us, they'll move faster. So what's a third idea? Well, maybe you could
just have more of them. Maybe in this number
one plane, which is the leftmost
plane of this box, why don't you just jam it
full of more little molecules? If you have more molecules
moving around-- that's another way of saying just
increasing the pressure, that's increasing the pressure at
that position one-- then you're going to
have a better chance of having molecules move across. So increased pressure at one. And what's a fourth idea? I'm just going to make
a little bit of space. What's a fourth idea that
we can maybe put on here? Well, if you're thinking
really outside the box, and this is actually
literally outside the box, then you might think,
well, why not just expand this entire thing? Make it a larger area. What about that? Why not just make a larger area. So that's the last idea. Maybe you can actually just
make it a bigger surface area. So maybe something
like this, you could expand it
in all directions. And maybe you can do
something like that. I'm going to have to make sure
I draw it carefully so don't confuse you, but basically
something like this, where you now have
the same thickness, I'm not changing the
thickness, but I'm basically-- you're going
to make this wall bigger. Actually, I screwed
that up a little bit. Let me just fix that. So this is what my new back
wall is going to look like and maybe I should
do it in blue just to make sure we stay
consistent with the colors. But of course, this is just
going to extend out like that. And this is my new back wall. Right, this whole
thing is my back wall. And so if I expand
the area, now I have, of course,
much more chance of getting some of these
molecules back there. And the partial pressure
is going to stay the same, so if I expand the area, I
still have more molecules on this initial leftmost face. And so the pressure is
going to stay the same. This is the P1 that we just
got through talking about. But because I have
more area there's more chance that somewhere
along this entire area a molecule will make its
way across the thickness and hit that back wall. So something like that. And let me fill this in. So this is a fourth idea. Let me write that down
as the fourth idea, is increase the area. So these are four good
ideas, four good ideas for how you can maximize the
amount of particles over time and hopefully make as
much money as you can. Probably much more than $5. So this is exactly what
Fick's law talks about. It talks about the
idea of amounts of particles moving over time. So let me write out Fick's
law, and this is actually how you most commonly will
come across it, although there are some variations on it. It's going to look
something like this. And I'm actually going to try
to color code it to go along with the ideas that
we already presented. So we said there's some things
you can do with pressure, some things you might do
with the surface area, and also, remember we had
that diffusion constant. And you divide all this stuff
by the thickness of the wall. So it's very colorful,
but this is Fick's law as you usually see it. There are some other
variations I'll talk about. So to go through
this piece by piece, this is V with a dot over it. This is the rate of
particles moving. And when I say rate,
you know that that means that there's
some time component. So this gets to what
the challenge was. We said, how many
particles can you get to go to that blue back
wall over some period of time. And sometimes when we
talk about particles we can think of them as giving
that in terms of an amount. You might think of
that as like a moles or some numerical
value, or the volume of a gas that's moving across. So that's why
sometimes you'll see it as V, to refer to volume. On the other side, this
bit makes perfect sense. If you have more
molecules, that's going to cause more
pressure, we said earlier. And if there's a bigger pressure
difference between what's on the first side versus
what's on the second side-- remember the second side is
the back wall-- then of course that's going to mean that
more of the molecules are going to move over. So this is a bigger difference. So sometimes you'll
see this as delta P, and delta just means difference. This A, we said, refers
to just surface area. Of course if you have
a greater surface area, that's going to allow for more
of the molecules to get across. This D, that's an
interesting one. This is diffusion constant. And remember when we think
about diffusion constant, there are two laws that
might jump into your head. In fact, the first
one was Henry's law, and you remember we
talked about solubility, in terms of the amount
of molecules that go from, for example,
air to liquid. This is Henry's law
that told us about that. And of course if
something is very soluble, then maybe that would
be an increased P1, going back to the idea of
pressure at the first wall. And then you have to divide
by the molecular weight. The square root, in fact,
of the molecular weight. So that's the idea we
had, and this actually comes from Graham's law. So whenever I talk about
the diffusion constant, remember there are two
laws that are in play here, Henry's law and Graham's
law, that are coming together to offer us some information
about the diffusion constant. And that's actually
why we said, well, if you have a small molecular
weight molecule, maybe that'll help you out, because it's
in the denominator it's going to cause the rate
of particles moving across to go up. And finally, this T,
this is thickness. This is the thickness
of the wall. And this is totally intuitive. If you have a thick
wall, it's going to be harder for molecules to
make it across very quickly. So without even knowing it,
you kind of derived Fick's law all by yourself just
kind of using intuition, and that's kind of the best
way to learn this stuff. And sometimes, as
I mentioned, you might see this formula
written differently. In fact, let me
actually just rearrange this formula in a different way. I'm just going to sketch
out how you might also see it, which is that
sometimes you see area on this side of the equation. Of course, that's just
rearranging it, right, dividing both sides by area. And then you might see
the P actually up here, like P1 and then minus
P2, something like this. And in the denominator over
here, you'll see the T. So you'll get this, and
then very separately you'll see times D. So this might not look so
different, but what happens is that then people
lump things, and that's when things get kind of tricky. They'll say well, let's
lump this together, and let's lump this together. And they'll call this flux. And this second part
they'll call gradient. So you may see Fick's law
written this way, where it says flux equals the gradient
times diffusion constant. Because of course the diffusion
constant hasn't changed, it's the same thing, it
just carries on down. And if you see it
that way, let me just give you an example of
what these things mean. Let's start with flux,
which is basically the net rate of particles
moving through an area, moving through some area. And you can kind of follow
through the equation and that makes sense. And here the important part
is the idea of a net rate. It's not total rate,
but you're actually looking for what is the net gain
or net rate that you're seeing. And this gradient
over here, this is just change in
pressure over-- divided by or over-- some distance,
or over a distance. And occasionally you'll
see pressure written out as particles in a volume, which
is kind of the same thing. Conceptually it's
the same thing. Particles in a
volume, of course, are going to exert
some pressure, so sometimes you'll even
see it written this way. So I guess the
point is that you'll see these different
terms, and I just want you to be
familiar with them. But at least now you know that
the most common way you'll see Fick's law is
written out this way, and that it's
completely intuitive. In fact if you had to come
up with it, given some time you'd probably come up
with Fick's law yourself.