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The Mathematical Theory of Non-uniform Gases

Random walk (random motion)[edit]

File:Random motion.webm

The apparent random motion of atoms, ions or molecules explained. Substances appear to move randomly due to collisions with other substances. From the iBook “Cell Membrane Transport”, free license granted by IS3D, LLC, 2014.

One common misconception is that individual atoms, ions or molecules move randomly, which they do not. In the animation on the right, the ion on in the left panel has a “random” motion, but this motion is not random as it is the result of “collisions” with other ions. As such, the movement of a single atom, ion, or molecule within a mixture just appears random when viewed in isolation. The movement of a substance within a mixture by “random walk” is governed by the kinetic energy within the system that can be affected by changes in concentration, pressure or temperature.

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