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The Effect of Molecular Weight on the Rate of Diffusion 1

Cynara Alger
Group 1 Sec. U - 7L

August 16, 2013


A scientific paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements in General

Biology I laboratory under Prof. Riaflor Alcabedos, 1st sem., 2013-2014.

The effect of molecular weight on the rate of diffusion was
verified using two kinds of test; the glass tube test and the agarwater gel test. Two cottons were moistened with two different
substances, HCl and ammonium hydroxide NH4OH, and then were
simultaneously placed at the end of the glass tube set-up. The
ammonium (NH3(g)) diffused at a faster rate compared to
hydrochloric acid (HCl(g)) then the reaction between substances
formed a white ring smoke, ammonium chloride (NH4Cl(s)), that is
near the hydrochloric acid (HCl). In the agar-water gel test, 3 kinds
of different substances, namely KMnO4, K2Cr2O7 and methylene
blue, were dropped into three wells with the same amount.
Methylene blue, having the largest molecular weight between the
three, exhibited the smallest diameter meaning it had the slowest
rate of diffusion. Thus, when a substance has higher molecular
weight it will have a slower rate compared to other substances.

Molecules dissolved in a solution are in a constant random motion due to their
kinetic energy. One result of this motion is that dissolved molecules become evenly
distributed throughout the solution. This tendency of molecules to spread out is an
example of diffusion. It is the movement of molecules from higher concentration area to
areas of lower concentration (McKinley, 2006). It is caused by random molecular motion
that leads to complete mixing. It can be a slow process. In gasses, diffusion progress at
rate of about 10 cm per minute; in liquids, its rate is about 0.05 cm per minute; in solids,
only about 0.0001 cm per minute (Cussler, 2009).
There are several factors affecting the rate of diffusion of substances, the size of
the particle or the molecular weight of the substances that will be diffused, temperature
wherein the substance is placed, concentration difference of the two compartments

where the substance is diffused, diffusion distance of the two compartments where the
substance is diffused, surface area of the two compartments and the permeability of the
intersection of the compartments. The force of the heat does not move the molecule in a
particular direction but pushes it randomly. The atoms (and molecules and other
microscopic particles) move every which way, constantly bumping into each other and
changing direction. It may help to think of the atoms as balls rolling randomly around,
always proceeding in a straight line until it hits another ball (or a wall) and bounces in
another direction. The actual movement of the particle is random and we cannot predict
where the heat energy will push any particular particle. (Meyertholen, 2007). Consider
two containers of gas A and B separated by a partition. The molecules of both gases
are in constant motion and make numerous collisions with the partition. If the partition is
removed as in the lower illustration, the gases will mix because of the random velocities
of their molecules. In time a uniform mixture of A and B molecules will be produced in
the container. The tendency toward diffusion is very strong even at room temperature
because of the high molecular velocities associated with the thermal energy of the
particles. (Nave, 2013) The lighter molecule will be pushed by the heavier molecule with
greater force so the distance of the lighter molecule will diffuse at a fast rate.
The effect of molecular weight on the rate of diffusion can be seen from the
experiment of hydrochloric acid (HCl) and the ammonium hydroxide (NH3) that were
placed simultaneously in the glass tube. The experiment illustrated that the lighter
substance, ammonium hydroxide (NH3), with a molecular weight of 17 g/mol resulted to
a faster rate of diffusion compared to the heavier substance, HCl, with a molecular
weight of 36 g/mol then a formation of a white smoke, ammonium chloride (NH 4Cl), was

a product of the reaction. The experiment was a basis for the comparison of the effect of
the molecular weight in the diffusion of substances.
The agar-water gel test was used to test whether the hypothesis in the first
experiment was correct and to prove that the molecular weight is one factor of the
diffusion of substance. Equal amount of potassium permanganate (KMnO 4), potassium
dichromate (K2Cr2O7) and methylene blue were placed at different wells in the agarwater gel and were observed for their diameter of diffusion within 30 minutes.

The study aimed to determine the control of the molecular weight on the rate of
diffusion of the three substances namely potassium permanganate (KMnO 4), potassium
dichromate (K2Cr2O7) and methylene blue via agar-water gel test in a given time. It aims
1. to identify which would be likely a factor of the rate of diffusion of substance;
2. to explain what is the effect of the molecular weight on the rate of diffusion of
the substances

The study was conducted at the Institute of Biological Sciences Laboratory,

University of the Philippines Los Banos Campus, Los Banos, Laguna on August 8,


In the first experiment, a glass tube that was placed, equal in both sides, in an
iron stand was used as a medium between the two cottons that were moistened with 2
different reagents, ammonium (NH3) and hydrochloric acid (HCl) and was placed at the
end of the glass tube. Afterwards, a white smoke ring appeared shown in Figure 1. The
place where the cottons were placed and the smoke formation were marked. The
distances (in cm) between the smoke formation and the hydrochloric acid (HCl) or from
the ammonium (NH3) were recorded. The other trials were also recorded for the
average distance of each substance with the smoke formation and the average ratio of
the measurements. The measurements were tallied in a table for comparison.

In the second experiment an agar-water gel was placed in a covered petri dish.
There are three wells in the agar-water gel where the drops of the substances will be
placed for observation. The substances that were placed in the wells simultaneously
were potassium permanganate (KMNO4) with a molecular weight of 158 g/mole,
potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) with a molecular weight of 294 g/mole, and methylene
blue with a molecular weight of 374 g/mole. The solutions differ in color so they are
easily observed and compared. The diameter (in mm) at time = 0 minutes was recorded
for control. Figure 2 shows the result of the diffusion of the substances in the gel. Then
the diameters at a succession of 3 minutes were recorded for comparison and it was
tabulated for the calculation of the partial rate of diffusion by using this formula

( )
where di = diameter of colored area at a given time
di-t = diameter of colored area immediately before di
ti = time when di was measured
ti-t = time immediately before ti

All computed answers were tallied and tabulated and the average rate of
diffusion (mm/min.) of each substance were computed then placed in a graph. The
partial rates of diffusion at a given time was plotted to form a line graph for interpretation
and study.

Table 1 shows the recorded distances from the trials made, the distances are the
distance between the white smoke ring, ammonium chloride (NH 4Cl), with the two
substances that were placed at the end of the glass tube. The observations and
recorded distances showed that the white smoke ring was closer to the hydrochloric
acid (HCl) than where the ammonium hydroxide (NH4OH) is placed. The distance
between the white smoke ring and the hydrochloric acid (HCl) ranges from 8.5 cm
15.0 cm while the distance between the white smoke ring and ammonium hydroxide
(NH4OH) ranges from 15.4 cm 20.5 cm. The formation of the white smoke ring
clarifies that the reaction of the substances reacted near the side of the hydrochloric
acid (HCl) so the molecules of ammonium hydroxide (NH 4OH) diffused faster than the
molecules of hydrochloric acid (HCl). This may prove that molecular weight has an
effect on the rate of diffusion of substances because the molecular weight of ammonium
(NH3) is 17 g/mol while hydrochloric acids (HCl) molecular weight is 36 g/mol and the

experiment resulted to a faster diffusion of ammonium (NH3) because it is farther than

the site of the reaction of both substances.

After conducting the experiment of diffusion of different substances using the

agar-water gel set up, the following results in table 4.2 were recorded and studied.

In table 4.2 results showed that methylene blue produced the smallest diameter
among the three substances that are potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and potassium
dichromate (K2Cr2O7). The substances molecular weights vary from each other,
methylene blue having a molecular weight of 374 g/mol, which is the largest molecular
weight among the three, potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) having a molecular weight of
294 g/mol which is less than methylene blue but more than potassium permanganate,
and potassium permanganate having a molecular weight of 158 g/mol, which is the
smallest among the three. The table shows that at a succession of three minutes the
diameter of potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7)
increases but methylene blues diameter remains the same until a certain time. The
results also showed that there is a certain time where the rate of diffusion became
stabilized and remained constant.

In table 4.3 the datas from table 4.2 were used to distinguished the partial rates
of diffusion of the three substances. The recorded results shows that the potassium
permanganate (KMnO4) shows stable rate of diffusion at first but decreased at the

proceeding time, while potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) shows irregular rates of

diffusion same as the methylene blue. The averages of these rates of diffusion showed
that potassium permanganate (KMnO4) had the fastest rate followed by potassium
dichromate (K2Cr2O7) and lastly methylene blue, all of the results are based on their
diameters at 30 minutes at an interval of three minutes. Thus, if a substance has higher
molecular weight it will have a slower rate of diffusion.


The hypothesis from the glass tube set up was tested if the molecular weight has
an effect on the rate of diffusion. In the agar-water gel test equal amounts of potassium
permanganate (KMnO4), potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) and methylene blue were
simultaneously placed at three separate wells in the gel. The diameters of the
substances were measured at an interval of three minutes for 30 minutes.
The experiments showed that the average rate of diffusion of potassium
permanganate (KMnO4) was 0.23 (mm/min), followed by potassium dichromate
(K2Cr2O7) was 0.20 (mm/min) and lastly methylene blue was 0.07 (mm/min). The
experiment clearly showed that the substance with the smallest molecular weight
exhibited faster rate than the substance with larger molecular weight. Therefore, the
hypothesis can be accepted since it is proven that the molecular weight affects the rate
of diffusion of substances, then the higher the molecular weight, the slower the
diffusion. It is also recommended to test other volatile substances to know which could
also be a factor in the rate of diffusion.

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Meyertholen, E. Diffusion. 2007. August 9, 2013.

Nave, Carl R. Diffusion. 2013. August 9,2013. http://hyperphysics.phyastr.
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