Diffusion in liquids

This class practical shows that diffusion takes place in liquids. Students place colourless crystals of lead nitrate and potassium iodide at opposite sides of a petri dish of deionised water. As they dissolve and diffuse towards each other they form clouds of yellow lead iodide.

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Lesson organisation

This practical activity takes around 30 minutes.

Apparatus and Chemicals

Per pair or group of students:
Petri dish
White tile or piece of white paper

Lead nitrate (Toxic, Dangerous for the environment), 1 crystal
Potassium iodide (Low hazard), 1 crystal
Deionised water

Technical Notes

Lead nitrate (Toxic, Dangerous for the environment) Refer to CLEAPSS Hazcard 57A
Potassium iodide (Low hazard) Refer to CLEAPSS Hazcard 47B


HEALTH & SAFETY: Wear eye protection

a Place a petri dish on a white tile or piece of white paper. Fill it nearly to the top with deionised water.

b Using forceps, place a crystal of lead nitrate at one side of the petri dish and a crystal of potassium iodide at the other.

c Observe as the crystals begin to dissolve and a new compound is formed between them.

Diffusion In Liquids

Teaching notes

The lead nitrate and potassium iodide each dissolve and begin to diffuse through the water. When the lead ions and iodide ions meet they react to form solid yellow lead iodide which precipitates out of solution.

lead nitrate + potassium iodide → lead iodide + potassium nitrate

Pb (aq) + 2I- (aq) → PbI2 (s)

The precipitate does not form exactly between the two crystals. This is because the lead ion is heavier and diffuses more slowly through the liquid than the iodide ion.

The demonstration Solid solid reaction involves the same reaction but in the solid state.

Health & Safety checked, April 2008