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9.4 Effusion and Diffusion of Gases

Chemistry9.4 Effusion and Diffusion of Gases
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Essential Ideas
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 Chemistry in Context
    3. 1.2 Phases and Classification of Matter
    4. 1.3 Physical and Chemical Properties
    5. 1.4 Measurements
    6. 1.5 Measurement Uncertainty, Accuracy, and Precision
    7. 1.6 Mathematical Treatment of Measurement Results
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  3. 2 Atoms, Molecules, and Ions
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Early Ideas in Atomic Theory
    3. 2.2 Evolution of Atomic Theory
    4. 2.3 Atomic Structure and Symbolism
    5. 2.4 Chemical Formulas
    6. 2.5 The Periodic Table
    7. 2.6 Molecular and Ionic Compounds
    8. 2.7 Chemical Nomenclature
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  4. 3 Composition of Substances and Solutions
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Formula Mass and the Mole Concept
    3. 3.2 Determining Empirical and Molecular Formulas
    4. 3.3 Molarity
    5. 3.4 Other Units for Solution Concentrations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  5. 4 Stoichiometry of Chemical Reactions
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Writing and Balancing Chemical Equations
    3. 4.2 Classifying Chemical Reactions
    4. 4.3 Reaction Stoichiometry
    5. 4.4 Reaction Yields
    6. 4.5 Quantitative Chemical Analysis
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  6. 5 Thermochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Energy Basics
    3. 5.2 Calorimetry
    4. 5.3 Enthalpy
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Equations
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  7. 6 Electronic Structure and Periodic Properties of Elements
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Electromagnetic Energy
    3. 6.2 The Bohr Model
    4. 6.3 Development of Quantum Theory
    5. 6.4 Electronic Structure of Atoms (Electron Configurations)
    6. 6.5 Periodic Variations in Element Properties
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  8. 7 Chemical Bonding and Molecular Geometry
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Ionic Bonding
    3. 7.2 Covalent Bonding
    4. 7.3 Lewis Symbols and Structures
    5. 7.4 Formal Charges and Resonance
    6. 7.5 Strengths of Ionic and Covalent Bonds
    7. 7.6 Molecular Structure and Polarity
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  9. 8 Advanced Theories of Covalent Bonding
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Valence Bond Theory
    3. 8.2 Hybrid Atomic Orbitals
    4. 8.3 Multiple Bonds
    5. 8.4 Molecular Orbital Theory
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  10. 9 Gases
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Gas Pressure
    3. 9.2 Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law
    4. 9.3 Stoichiometry of Gaseous Substances, Mixtures, and Reactions
    5. 9.4 Effusion and Diffusion of Gases
    6. 9.5 The Kinetic-Molecular Theory
    7. 9.6 Non-Ideal Gas Behavior
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  11. 10 Liquids and Solids
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Intermolecular Forces
    3. 10.2 Properties of Liquids
    4. 10.3 Phase Transitions
    5. 10.4 Phase Diagrams
    6. 10.5 The Solid State of Matter
    7. 10.6 Lattice Structures in Crystalline Solids
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  12. 11 Solutions and Colloids
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 The Dissolution Process
    3. 11.2 Electrolytes
    4. 11.3 Solubility
    5. 11.4 Colligative Properties
    6. 11.5 Colloids
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  13. 12 Kinetics
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Chemical Reaction Rates
    3. 12.2 Factors Affecting Reaction Rates
    4. 12.3 Rate Laws
    5. 12.4 Integrated Rate Laws
    6. 12.5 Collision Theory
    7. 12.6 Reaction Mechanisms
    8. 12.7 Catalysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  14. 13 Fundamental Equilibrium Concepts
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 Chemical Equilibria
    3. 13.2 Equilibrium Constants
    4. 13.3 Shifting Equilibria: Le Châtelier’s Principle
    5. 13.4 Equilibrium Calculations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  15. 14 Acid-Base Equilibria
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Brønsted-Lowry Acids and Bases
    3. 14.2 pH and pOH
    4. 14.3 Relative Strengths of Acids and Bases
    5. 14.4 Hydrolysis of Salt Solutions
    6. 14.5 Polyprotic Acids
    7. 14.6 Buffers
    8. 14.7 Acid-Base Titrations
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  16. 15 Equilibria of Other Reaction Classes
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Precipitation and Dissolution
    3. 15.2 Lewis Acids and Bases
    4. 15.3 Multiple Equilibria
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Equations
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  17. 16 Thermodynamics
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Spontaneity
    3. 16.2 Entropy
    4. 16.3 The Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics
    5. 16.4 Free Energy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  18. 17 Electrochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 Balancing Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
    3. 17.2 Galvanic Cells
    4. 17.3 Standard Reduction Potentials
    5. 17.4 The Nernst Equation
    6. 17.5 Batteries and Fuel Cells
    7. 17.6 Corrosion
    8. 17.7 Electrolysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  19. 18 Representative Metals, Metalloids, and Nonmetals
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Periodicity
    3. 18.2 Occurrence and Preparation of the Representative Metals
    4. 18.3 Structure and General Properties of the Metalloids
    5. 18.4 Structure and General Properties of the Nonmetals
    6. 18.5 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Hydrogen
    7. 18.6 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Carbonates
    8. 18.7 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Nitrogen
    9. 18.8 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Phosphorus
    10. 18.9 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Oxygen
    11. 18.10 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Sulfur
    12. 18.11 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Halogens
    13. 18.12 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of the Noble Gases
    14. Key Terms
    15. Summary
    16. Exercises
  20. 19 Transition Metals and Coordination Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Transition Metals and Their Compounds
    3. 19.2 Coordination Chemistry of Transition Metals
    4. 19.3 Spectroscopic and Magnetic Properties of Coordination Compounds
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Exercises
  21. 20 Organic Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Hydrocarbons
    3. 20.2 Alcohols and Ethers
    4. 20.3 Aldehydes, Ketones, Carboxylic Acids, and Esters
    5. 20.4 Amines and Amides
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  22. 21 Nuclear Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 Nuclear Structure and Stability
    3. 21.2 Nuclear Equations
    4. 21.3 Radioactive Decay
    5. 21.4 Transmutation and Nuclear Energy
    6. 21.5 Uses of Radioisotopes
    7. 21.6 Biological Effects of Radiation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  23. A | The Periodic Table
  24. B | Essential Mathematics
  25. C | Units and Conversion Factors
  26. D | Fundamental Physical Constants
  27. E | Water Properties
  28. F | Composition of Commercial Acids and Bases
  29. G | Standard Thermodynamic Properties for Selected Substances
  30. H | Ionization Constants of Weak Acids
  31. I | Ionization Constants of Weak Bases
  32. J | Solubility Products
  33. K | Formation Constants for Complex Ions
  34. L | Standard Electrode (Half-Cell) Potentials
  35. M | Half-Lives for Several Radioactive Isotopes
  36. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
  37. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Define and explain effusion and diffusion
  • State Graham’s law and use it to compute relevant gas properties

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 (shown in Figure 9.27). 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 9.27. 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).

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 9.27 (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.

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

rate of diffusion=amount of gas passing through an areaunit of timerate of diffusion=amount of gas passing through an areaunit of 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 9.28). 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 9.28 Diffusion occurs when gas molecules disperse throughout a container. Effusion occurs when a gas passes through an opening that is smaller than the mean free path of the particles, that is, the average distance traveled between collisions. Effectively, this means that only one particle passes through at a time.

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 9.29). 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:

rate of effusion1rate of effusion1

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:

rate of effusion of Arate of effusion of B=BArate of effusion of Arate of effusion of B=BA
This figure shows two photos. The first photo shows a blue balloon which floats above a green balloon. The green balloon is resting on a surface. Both balloons are about the same size. The second photo shows the same two balloons, but the blue one is now smaller than the green one. Both are resting on a surface.
Figure 9.29 A balloon filled with air (the blue one) remains full overnight. A balloon filled with helium (the green one) partially deflates because the smaller, light helium atoms effuse through small holes in the rubber much more readily than the heavier molecules of nitrogen and oxygen found in air. (credit: modification of work by Mark Ott)

Example 9.20

Applying Graham’s Law to Rates of Effusion

Calculate the ratio of the rate of effusion of hydrogen to the rate of effusion of oxygen.


From Graham’s law, we have:
rate of effusion of hydrogenrate of effusion of oxygen=1.43g L−10.0899g L−1=1.200.300=41rate of effusion of hydrogenrate of effusion of oxygen=1.43g L−10.0899g L−1=1.200.300=41

Using molar masses:

rate of effusion of hydrogenrate of effusion of oxygen=32g mol−12g mol−1=161=41rate of effusion of hydrogenrate of effusion of oxygen=32g mol−12g mol−1=161=41

Hydrogen effuses four times as rapidly as oxygen.

Check Your Learning

At a particular pressure and temperature, nitrogen gas effuses at the rate of 79 mL/s. Using the same apparatus at the same temperature and pressure, at what rate will sulfur dioxide effuse?


52 mL/s

Here’s another example, making the point about how determining times differs from determining rates.

Example 9.21

Effusion Time Calculations

It takes 243 s for 4.46 ×× 10−5 mol Xe to effuse through a tiny hole. Under the same conditions, how long will it take 4.46 ×× 10−5 mol Ne to effuse?


It is important to resist the temptation to use the times directly, and to remember how rate relates to time as well as how it relates to mass. Recall the definition of rate of effusion:
rate of effusion=amount of gas transferredtimerate of effusion=amount of gas transferredtime

and combine it with Graham’s law:

rate of effusion of gas Xerate of effusion of gas Ne=NeXerate of effusion of gas Xerate of effusion of gas Ne=NeXe

To get:

amount of Xe transferredtime for Xeamount of Ne transferredtime for Ne=NeXeamount of Xe transferredtime for Xeamount of Ne transferredtime for Ne=NeXe

Noting that amount of A = amount of B, and solving for time for Ne:

amount of Xetime for Xeamount of Netime for Ne=time for Netime for Xe=NeXe=NeXeamount of Xetime for Xeamount of Netime for Ne=time for Netime for Xe=NeXe=NeXe

and substitute values:

time for Ne243s=20.2g mol131.3g mol=0.392time for Ne243s=20.2g mol131.3g mol=0.392

Finally, solve for the desired quantity:

time for Ne=0.392×243s=95.3stime for Ne=0.392×243s=95.3s

Note that this answer is reasonable: Since Ne is lighter than Xe, the effusion rate for Ne will be larger than that for Xe, which means the time of effusion for Ne will be smaller than that for Xe.

Check Your Learning

A party balloon filled with helium deflates to 2323 of its original volume in 8.0 hours. How long will it take an identical balloon filled with the same number of moles of air (ℳ = 28.2 g/mol) to deflate to 1212 of its original volume?


32 h

Finally, here is one more example showing how to calculate molar mass from effusion rate data.

Example 9.22

Determining Molar Mass Using Graham’s Law

An unknown gas effuses 1.66 times more rapidly than CO2. What is the molar mass of the unknown gas? Can you make a reasonable guess as to its identity?


From Graham’s law, we have:
rate of effusion of Unknownrate of effusion of CO2=CO2Unknownrate of effusion of Unknownrate of effusion of CO2=CO2Unknown

Plug in known data:




The gas could well be CH4, the only gas with this molar mass.

Check Your Learning

Hydrogen gas effuses through a porous container 8.97-times faster than an unknown gas. Estimate the molar mass of the unknown gas.


163 g/mol

How Sciences Interconnect

Use of Diffusion for Nuclear Energy Applications: Uranium Enrichment

Gaseous diffusion has been used to produce enriched uranium for use in nuclear power plants and weapons. Naturally occurring uranium contains only 0.72% of 235U, the kind of uranium that is “fissile,” that is, capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. Nuclear reactors require fuel that is 2–5% 235U, and nuclear bombs need even higher concentrations. One way to enrich uranium to the desired levels is to take advantage of Graham’s law. In a gaseous diffusion enrichment plant, uranium hexafluoride (UF6, the only uranium compound that is volatile enough to work) is slowly pumped through large cylindrical vessels called diffusers, which contain porous barriers with microscopic openings. The process is one of diffusion because the other side of the barrier is not evacuated. The 235UF6 molecules have a higher average speed and diffuse through the barrier a little faster than the heavier 238UF6 molecules. The gas that has passed through the barrier is slightly enriched in 235UF6 and the residual gas is slightly depleted. The small difference in molecular weights between 235UF6 and 238UF6 only about 0.4% enrichment, is achieved in one diffuser (Figure 9.30). But by connecting many diffusers in a sequence of stages (called a cascade), the desired level of enrichment can be attained.

This figure shows a large cylindrical container oriented horizontally. A narrow tube or pipe which is labeled “porous barrier” runs horizontally through the center of the tube and extends a short distance out from the left and right ends of the cylinder. At the far left, an arrow points right into the tube. This arrow is labele, “Uranium hexafluoride ( U F subscript 6 ).” A line segment connects the label, “High pressure feed tube,” to the tube where it enters the cylinder. In the short region of tube outside the cylinder, 5 small, purple circles and 4 small, green circles are present. Inside the cylinder, an arrow points right through the tube which contains many evenly distributed, purple circles and a handful of green circles which decrease in quantity moving left to right through the cylinder. Curved arrows extend from the inner area of the tube into the outer region of the cylinder. Three of these arrows point into the area above the tube and three point into the area below. Two line segments extend from the label, “Higher speed superscript 235 U F subscript 6 diffuses through barrier faster than superscript 238 U F subscript 6,” to two green circles in the space above the tube. In the short section of tubing just outside the cylinder, 8 small, purple circles are present. An arrow labeled, “Depleted superscript 238 U F subscript 6,” points right extending from the end of this tube. The larger space outside the tube contains approximately 100 evenly distributed small green circles and only 5 purple circles. Eight of the purple circles appear at the left end of the cylinder. A tube exits the lower right end of the cylinder. It has 5 green circles followed by a right pointing arrow and the label, “Enriched superscript 235 U F subscript 6.”
Figure 9.30 In a diffuser, gaseous UF6 is pumped through a porous barrier, which partially separates 235UF6 from 238UF6 The UF6 must pass through many large diffuser units to achieve sufficient enrichment in 235U.

The large scale separation of gaseous 235UF6 from 238UF6 was first done during the World War II, at the atomic energy installation in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as part of the Manhattan Project (the development of the first atomic bomb). Although the theory is simple, this required surmounting many daunting technical challenges to make it work in practice. The barrier must have tiny, uniform holes (about 10–6 cm in diameter) and be porous enough to produce high flow rates. All materials (the barrier, tubing, surface coatings, lubricants, and gaskets) need to be able to contain, but not react with, the highly reactive and corrosive UF6.

Because gaseous diffusion plants require very large amounts of energy (to compress the gas to the high pressures required and drive it through the diffuser cascade, to remove the heat produced during compression, and so on), it is now being replaced by gas centrifuge technology, which requires far less energy. A current hot political issue is how to deny this technology to Iran, to prevent it from producing enough enriched uranium for them to use to make nuclear weapons.

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