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“Heroes and Highlights in the History of Diffusion”

Separation of diffusion from convection in gases[edit]

While Brownian motion of multi-molecular mesoscopic particles (like pollen grains studied by Brown) is observable under an optical microscope, molecular diffusion can only be probed in carefully controlled experimental conditions. Since Graham experiments, it is well known that avoiding of convection is necessary and this may be a non-trivial task.

Under normal conditions, molecular diffusion dominates only on length scales between nanometer and millimeter. On larger length scales, transport in liquids and gases is normally due to another transport phenomenonconvection, and to study diffusion on the larger scale, special efforts are needed.

Therefore, some often cited examples of diffusion are wrong: If cologne is sprayed in one place, it can soon be smelled in the entire room, but a simple calculation shows that this can’t be due to diffusion. Convective motion persists in the room because of the temperature [inhomogeneity]. If ink is dropped in water, one usually observes an inhomogeneous evolution of the spatial distribution, which clearly indicates convection (caused, in particular, by this dropping).[citation needed]

In contrast, heat conduction through solid media is an everyday occurrence (e.g. a metal spoon partly immersed in a hot liquid). This explains why the diffusion of heat was explained mathematically before the diffusion of mass.

Other types of diffusion[edit]