Fick's insights on liquid diffusion



In 1855, Adolph Fick published “On liquid diffusion,” mathematically treating salt movement in liquids as a diffusion process, analogous to heat diffusion. Less recognized is the fact that Fick also provided a detailed account of the implications of salt diffusion to transport through membranes.

A careful look at Fick [1855] shows that his conceptualization of molecular diffusion was more comprehensive than could be captured with the mathematical methods available to him, and therefore his expression, referred to as Fick's law, dealt only with salt flux. He viewed salt diffusion in liquids as a binary process, with salt moving in one way and water moving in the other. Fick's analysis of the consequences of such a binary process operating in a hydrophilic pore in a membrane offers insights that are relevant to Earth systems. This article draws attention to Fick's rationale and its implications for hydrogeological systems.