Osmotic pressure

Osmotic pressure on red blood cells

Osmotic pressure is the pressure which needs to be applied to a solution to prevent the inward flow of water across a semipermeable membrane.[1]

The phenomenon of osmotic pressure arises from the tendency of a pure solvent to move through a semi-permeable membrane and into a solution containing a solute to which the membrane is impermeable. This process is of vital importance in biology as the cell's membrane is selective towards many of the solutes found in living organisms.

In order to visualize this effect, imagine a U-shaped clear tube with equal amounts of water on each side, separated by a membrane at its base that is impermeable to sugar molecules (made from dialysis tubing). Sugar has been added to the water on one side. The height of the water on each side will change proportional to the pressure of the solutions.

Osmotic pressure causes the height of the water in the compartment containing the sugar to rise, due to movement of the pure water from its compartment into the compartment containing the sugar water. This process will stop once the pressures of the water and sugar water toward both sides of the membrane are equated. (See Osmosis).

Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff first proposed a formula for calculating the osmotic pressure, but this was later improved upon by Harmon Northrop Morse.[citation needed]

Osmotic potential is the opposite of water potential, which is the degree to which a solvent tends to stay in a liquid.


Thermodynamic explanation

Consider the system at the point it has reached equilibrium. The condition for this is that the chemical potential of the solvent (since only it is free to flow towards equilibrium) on both sides of the membrane is equal. The compartment containing the pure solvent has a chemical potential of μ0(l,p). On the other side, the compartment containing the solute has an additional contribution from the solute (factored as the mole fraction of the solute, χs < 1) but there also appears an addition in pressure. The balance is therefore:


where p denotes the external pressure, l the solvent, χs the mole fraction of the solvent and Π the osmotic pressure exerted by the solutes. The addition of solute decreases the chemical potential (an entropic effect), while the pressure increases the chemical potential, and thus a balance is reached. Note that the presence of the solute decreases the potential due to χs being smaller than 1.

Derivation of osmotic pressure

In order to find Π, the osmotic pressure, we can write the chemical potentials explicitly:


The negative expression on the left is a result of the increase in available states, causing an increase in entropy and a reduction of the chemical potential. The addition to the pressure is expressed through the expression for the energy of expansion:

\mu_s(l,\chi_s,p+\Pi)=\mu_s^0(l,p)+\int_p^{p+\Pi}\! V \, dp

Inserting the expression presented above into the chemical potential equation for the entire system and rearranging will arrive at:

-RTln\chi_s=\int_p^{p+\Pi}\! V \, dp

Morse equation

The osmotic pressure Π of a dilute solution can be approximated using the Morse equation (named after Harmon Northrop Morse):[2]

Π = iMRT,


i is the dimensionless van 't Hoff factor
M is the molarity
R=0.0821 L atm K-1 mol-1 is the gas constant
T is the thermodynamic (absolute) temperature

This equation gives the pressure on one side of the membrane; the total pressure on the membrane is given by the difference between the pressures on the two sides. Note the similarity of the above formula to the ideal gas law and also that osmotic pressure is not dependent on particle charge. This equation was derived by van 't Hoff.

Osmotic pressure is an important factor affecting cells. Osmoregulation is the homeostasis mechanism of an organism to reach balance in osmotic pressure.

  • Hypertonicity is the presence of a solution that causes cells to shrink.
  • Hypotonicity is the presence of a solution that causes cells to swell.
  • Isotonic is the presence of a solution that produces no change in cell volume.

When a biological cell is in a hypotonic environment, the cell interior accumulates water, water flows across the cell membrane into the cell, causing it to expand. In plant cells, the cell wall restricts the expansion, resulting in pressure on the cell wall from within called turgor pressure.


Osmotic pressure is the basis of filtering ("reverse osmosis"), a process commonly used to purify water. The water to be purified is placed in a chamber and put under an amount of pressure greater than the osmotic pressure exerted by the water and the solutes dissolved in it. Part of the chamber opens to a differentially permeable membrane that lets water molecules through, but not the solute particles. The osmotic pressure of ocean water is about 27 atm. Reverse osmosis desalinates fresh water from ocean salt water.

Osmotic pressure is necessary for many plant functions. It is the resulting turgor pressure on the cell wall that allows herbaceous plants to stand upright, and how plants regulate the aperture of their stomata. In animal cells which lack a cell wall however, excessive osmotic pressure can result in cytolysis.

For the calculation of molecular weight by using colligative properties, osmotic pressure is the most preferred property.

Potential osmotic pressure

Potential osmotic pressure is the maximum osmotic pressure that could develop in a solution if it were separated from distilled water by a selectively permeable membrane. It is the number of solute particles in a unit volume of the solution that directly determines its potential osmotic pressure. If one waits for equilibrium, osmotic pressure reaches potential osmotic pressure.

See also


  1. ^ Voet, Donald; Judith G. Voet, Charlotte W. Pratt (2001). Fundamentals of Biochemistry (Rev. ed.). New York: Wiley. p. 30. ISBN 9780471417590. 
  2. ^ Mansoor M. Amiji, Beverly J. Sandmann (2002). Applied Physical Pharmacy. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 54–57. ISBN 0071350764. http://books.google.com/books?id=Q-VyaWiBDccC&pg=PA56&dq=Morse+equation#PPA57,M1. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • osmotic pressure — os*mot ic pres sure, n. (Physical Chemistry) The pressure which a solution of a substance in a liquid exerts on a semipermeable membrane, through which the solvent can diffuse but the dissolved substance (the solute) cannot diffuse, when… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • osmotic pressure — n the pressure produced by or associated with osmosis and dependent on molar concentration and absolute temperature: as a) the maximum pressure that develops in a solution separated from a solvent by a membrane permeable only to the solvent b)… …   Medical dictionary

  • osmotic pressure — n. the pressure exerted by a solvent passing through a semipermeable membrane in osmosis, equal to the pressure that must be applied to the solution in order to prevent passage of the solvent into it …   English World dictionary

  • osmotic pressure — ► NOUN Chemistry ▪ the pressure that would have to be applied to a pure solvent to prevent it from passing into a given solution by osmosis …   English terms dictionary

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  • osmotic pressure — osmosinis slėgis statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Perteklinis slėgis, reikalingas pusiausvyrai palaikyti tarp tirpalo ir grynojo tirpiklio, kurie atskirti tik tirpikliui laidžia membrana. atitikmenys: angl. osmotic… …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • osmotic pressure — osmosinis slėgis statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Slėgių skirtumas abiejose puslaidės membranos pusėse. atitikmenys: angl. osmotic pressure vok. osmotischer Druck, m rus. осмотическое давление, n pranc. pression… …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • osmotic pressure — osmosinis slėgis statusas T sritis chemija apibrėžtis Slėgių skirtumas abiejose puslaidės membranos pusėse. atitikmenys: angl. osmotic pressure rus. осмотическое давление …   Chemijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • osmotic pressure — osmosinis slėgis statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. osmotic pressure vok. osmotischer Druck, m rus. осмотическое давление, n pranc. pression osmotique, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • osmotic pressure — Pressure required to prevent the flow of solvent through a membrane that has different concentrations of salt on either side …   Dictionary of invertebrate zoology

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