Diffusion coefficients of humic substances in agarose gel and in water

Jamie Lead, KJ Wilkinson, K Starchev

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    Measurements of the diffusion coefficients of five different humic substances (HS) have been performed in water and in agarose hydrogels at several pH values (in the range of 3-10) and gel concentrations (in the range of 0.7-3% w/w). Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) and classical diffusion cells were used in parallel to probe diffusion over both microscopic and mesoscopic distance scales. In general, agreement between the techniques was reasonable, which indicated that local nonhomogenities in the gel did not play an important role. Diffusion coefficients (D) in the gel were generally in the range of 0.9-2.5 x 10(-10) m2 s(-1) but were generally only 10-20% lower than in solution. At low pH values, one of the studied humic substances (a peat humic acid, PPHA) formed large aggregates that could not penetrate into the gel and therefore could not be defined by a single D value. The observed decreases of D in the gel for other HS were too large to be explained by the tortuousity and obstructive effects of the gel alone. D decreased slightly with increasing gel concentration and increased slightly with pH. Because modifications of D due to pH were similar in both the gel and the free solution, it is unlikely that complexation with the gel was greatly influenced by the pH. Rather, the main effect that appeared to decrease the diffusive flux in gels was likely small increases in the hydrodynamic radii of the humic macromolecules. An anomalous diffusion model was used to describe the FCS data in the gel. The characteristic exponent determined by fitting the autocorrelation functions with this model decreased only slightly (from 0.96 to 0.90) with increasing gel concentration providing support that HS complexation with the gel fibers was not very important. The results have important implications for our understanding of the fate and behavior of the HS and their associated pollutants and for interpreting metal speciation data obtained using gel-covered analytical sensors.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)482-487
    Number of pages6
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


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