Passive Transport

Free Response

Discuss why the following affect the rate of diffusion: molecular size, temperature, solution density, and the distance that must be traveled.


Heavy molecules move more slowly than lighter ones. It takes more energy in the medium to move them along. Increasing or decreasing temperature increases or decreases the energy in the medium, affecting molecular movement. The denser a solution is, the harder it is for molecules to move through it, causing diffusion to slow down due to friction. Living cells require a steady supply of nutrients and a steady rate of waste removal. If the distance these substances need to travel is too great, diffusion cannot move nutrients and waste materials efficiently to sustain life.

Why does water move through a membrane?


Water moves through a membrane in osmosis because there is a concentration gradient across the membrane of solute and solvent. The solute cannot effectively move to balance the concentration on both sides of the membrane, so water moves to achieve this balance.

Both of the regular intravenous solutions administered in medicine, normal saline and lactated Ringer’s solution, are isotonic. Why is this important?


Injection of isotonic solutions ensures that there will be no perturbation of the osmotic balance, and no water taken from tissues or added to them from the blood.

Describe two ways that decreasing temperature would affect the rate of diffusion of molecules across a cell’s plasma membrane.


Decreasing temperature will decrease the kinetic energy in the system. A lower temperature means less energy in the molecules, so they will move at a slower speed. Lowering temperature also decreases the kinetic energy of the molecules in the plasma membrane, compressing them together. This increases the density of the plasma membrane, which slows diffusion into the cell.

A cell develops a mutation in its potassium channels that prevents the ions from leaving the cell. If the cell’s aquaporins are still active, what will happen to the cell? Be sure to describe the tonicity and osmolarity of the cell.


Without functional potassium channels, the potassium ions that are pumped into the cell will accumulate. This increases the osmolarity inside the cell, creating a hypotonic solution. Since the plasma membrane is still selectively permeable to water by the aquaporins, water will flow into the cell. If the potassium concentration is high enough, enough water will eventually flow into the cell to lyse it.