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The effect of diffusion and convection on the rate of transfer of solutes across an interface


The transfer of substances across the interface between water and a membrane or between water and a solvent occurs in series with transport up to and away from the interface. These processes have been difficult to resolve. Recently D. M. Miller (Biochim Biophys Acta 856: 27–35, 1986) has used a moving drop technique to measure the rates of transfer of short-chain alcohols and tritiated water between water andn-octanol. This technique produces equivalent unstirred layers which are less than about 10 μm thick. Based on the trends in the observed rates of phase transfer, he proposes that the transfer is limited by the actual interfacial step. If so, water-oil interfacial transfer would be sufficiently slow to limit the rate of permeation of lipid membranes by these substances. It is shown here that the observed rates of phase transfer can be explained quantitatively if they are limited by convection or by diffusion across the combination of 5–10 μm unstirred layers both inside and outside the moving drops. For water, comparison of the observed rates with the rate of evaporation from a clean surface, suggests that the interfacial step at the water-octanol interface is not rate-limiting.

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Hladky, S.B. The effect of diffusion and convection on the rate of transfer of solutes across an interface. Eur Biophys J 15, 251–255 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00577073

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Key words

  • Phase transfer
  • water
  • alcohols
  • interfacial resistance
  • adsorption
  • unstirred layer