AskDefine | Define diffusion

Dictionary Definition



1 (physics) the process of diffusing; the intermingling of molecules in gases and liquids as a result of random thermal agitation
2 the spread of social institutions (and myths and skills) from one society to another
3 the property of being diffused or dispersed [syn: dissemination]
4 the act of dispersing or diffusing something; "the dispersion of the troops"; "the diffusion of knowledge" [syn: dispersion, dispersal, dissemination]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Diffusion




From diffusionem (accusative of diffusio), from verb diffundere.


  1. the act of diffusing or dispersing something, or the property of being diffused or dispersed; dispersion
  2. the scattering of light by reflection from a rough surface, or by passage through a translucent medium
  3. the intermingling of the molecules of a fluid due to random thermal agitation
  4. the spread of cultural or linguistic practices, or social institutions, in one or more communities
  5. (Weather) Exchange of airborne media between regions in space in an apparently random motion of a small scale.




fr-noun f

Extensive Definition

In physics, chemistry and biology, diffusion denotes the mixing of two or more substances or the net motion of a substance from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. The theory is that both of these result from the random motion of micro-scale individual agents (such as molecules) giving rise to net changes on the macro-scale. While originally formulated within the framework of the physical sciences, the concept of diffusion has been applied to phenomena such as the manner in which information is spread amongst a population. The chemistry definition of diffusion is the movement of a fluid from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration.
Diffusion is an abstract topic and is often only explained as theoretical model. It is part of transport phenomena in general, and often accompanied by the much quicker convection (making it hard to observe 'pure' diffusion). A few examples are shown below.

The diffusion equation

To verify any microscopic model we may think up, we need to calculate its consequences and compare these to observation. Another way of arriving at a microscopic model is to write down a general equation and solve it mathematically (i.e. start from what you already know). This general equation, not refering to any microscopic model, is the diffusion equation
\partial_t c (\mathbf,t) = D\nabla^2 c(\mathbf,t).
This equation is composed out of two true statements. One of these is the continuity equation
\partial_t c(\mathbf , t) = - \mathbf \cdot \mathbf(\mathbf , t).
And the other Fick's law
\mathbf (\mathbf , t) = - D \mathbf c (\mathbf, t),
where \mathbf (\mathbf , t) is the flux, D is the diffusion constant, and c (\mathbf, t) is the concentration of diffusing material.
The continuity equation is the mathematical equivalent to a piggybank. Your savings increase by the amount that you put in, they decrease by the amount you take out, no more and no less. Fick's law, on the other hand, was born as an empirical law which means that it describes observations and is not derived from any argument.
One general solution to the diffusion equation is a Gaussian one. This suggest an uncorrelated random walk as a microscopic model, completely in line with Robert Brown's observations.

Einstein relation

Einstein showed that Fick's law (empirical) can be derived by writing the flux in terms of the chemical potential, and taking this potential to be that of an ideal gas. This last step is valid for not-too-dense concentrations of particles in general (in a gas, but in a liquid as well). The result is
\mathbf (\mathbf , t) = - \frac\mathbf c (\mathbf, t),
where \gamma is the drag coefficient (the inverse of the mobility). The Einstein relation follows directly to be
D = \frac,
which is the most general expression for the diffusion coefficient, not refering to any microscopic model.

Entropy and diffusion

Metabolism and respiration rely in part upon diffusion in addition to bulk or active processes. For example, in the alveoli of mammalian lungs, due to differences in partial pressures across the alveolar-capillary membrane, oxygen diffuses into the blood and carbon dioxide diffuses out. Lungs contain a large surface area to facilitate this gas exchange process.

An experiment to demonstrate diffusion

Diffusion is easy to observe, but care must be taken to avoid a mixture of diffusion and other transport phenomena.
It can be demonstrated with a wide glass tubed paper, two corks, some cotton wool soaked in ammonia solution and some red litmus paper. By corking the two ends of the wide glass tube and plugging the wet cotton wool with one of the corks, and litmus paper can be hung with a thread within the tube. It will be observed that the red litmus papers turn blue.
This is because the ammonia molecules travel by diffusion from the higher concentration in the cotton wool to the lower concentration in the rest of the glass tube. As the ammonia solution is alkaline, the red litmus papers turn blue. By changing the concentration of ammonia, the rate of color change of the litmus papers can be changed.


  • Investigations on the Theory of the Brownian Movement
diffusion in Catalan: Difusió
diffusion in Czech: Difuze
diffusion in Danish: Diffusion
diffusion in German: Diffusion
diffusion in Modern Greek (1453-): Διάχυση
diffusion in Spanish: Difusión
diffusion in Persian: نفوذ (فیزیک)
diffusion in French: Diffusion de la matière
diffusion in Indonesian: Difusi
diffusion in Hebrew: פעפוע
diffusion in Lithuanian: Difuzija
diffusion in Macedonian: Дифузија
diffusion in Dutch: Diffusie
diffusion in Japanese: 拡散
diffusion in Norwegian: Diffusjon
diffusion in Norwegian Nynorsk: Diffusjon
diffusion in Polish: Dyfuzja
diffusion in Portuguese: Difusão molecular
diffusion in Russian: Диффузия
diffusion in Slovak: Difúzia (fyzika)
diffusion in Slovenian: Difuzija
diffusion in Serbian: Дифузија
diffusion in Serbo-Croatian: Difuzija
diffusion in Finnish: Diffuusio
diffusion in Swedish: Diffusion
diffusion in Turkish: Difüzyon
diffusion in Ukrainian: Дифузія
diffusion in Chinese: 扩散
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1