All the gases of concern in respiratory physiology are simple molecules that are free to move among one another, which is the process called "diffusion." This is also true of gases dissolved in the fluids and tissues of the body.
For diffusion to occur, there must be a source of energy. This is provided by the kinetic motion of the molecules themselves. Except at absolute zero temperature, all molecules of all matter are continually undergoing motion. For free molecules that are not physically attached to others, this means linear movement at high velocity until they strike other molecules. Then they bounce away in new directions and continue until striking other molecules again. In this way, the molecules move rapidly and randomly among one another.
Net Diffusion of a Gas in One Direction—Effect of a Concentration Gradient. If a gas chamber or a solution has a high concentration of a particular gas at one end of the chamber and a low concentration at the other end, as shown in Figure 39-1, net diffusion of the gas will occur from the high-concentration area toward the low-concentration area. The reason is obvious: There are far more molecules at end A of the chamber to diffuse toward end B than there are molecules to diffuse in the opposite direction. Therefore, the rates of diffusion in each of the two directions are proportionately different, as demonstrated by the lengths of the arrows in the figure.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.