I still remember learning about osmosis at school many years ago. I don’t know why that particular memory has stayed with me so strongly, maybe because it was hard to understand or perhaps because that was the year where I discovered my love of biological science which led to my study choices later on. Whatever the reason, osmosis is a term I’ve never forgotten the meaning of.
Definition of Osmosis
Osmosis is the movement of water from a less concentrated solution to a more concentrated solution through a partially permeable membrane.
The important thing to remember is that osmosis is the movement of WATER ( or other solvent ) not the particles dissolved in the water. For example if you split a beaker of water into two halves with a semi permeable membrane and added salt to one side, water would move from the side of the beaker with no salt until the two concentrations of salt water were the same.
Try soaking a raisin in water, what happens? It should swell up a little, this is because the water moves from it’s own point of low concentration to into the cells of the raisin, which has a high sugar concentration to rehydrate the cells. Water keeps moving by osmosis until equilibrium is reached, this is when the concentration of both solutions is the same.
Another fun way to illustrate osmosis is with eggs as they have a handy semi-permeable membrane.
Easy Osmosis Experiment
Two glasses or jars
How do you remove the shell from an egg?
First we need to remove the shell to expose the semi permeable membrane of the egg. You can do this very simply by submerging the eggs in vinegar for about 24 hours. After this time rub gently under running water to remove the shell, if some shell still remains put it back in the vinegar for a couple more hours.
Next we need to make a concentrated solution, to do this stir some sugar into a glass of water, a couple of tablespoons should work perfectly.
In your second glass just add plain water.
Add an egg to each glass and leave for about 24 hours. Can you predict what will happen?
Note how the egg in water sinks to the bottom of the glass while the one in the sugar solution floats. This is because the sugar solution is more dense than the water.
Our egg in the water expanded while the egg in sugar solution shrank.
Prick the egg from the water with a fine needle and watch a jet of water shoot out!
How do you think you could rehydrate your shrunken egg?
Why does the egg grow and shrink?
Our concentrated solution was the sugar solution. The dissolved sugar molecules cannot pass through the semi permeable membrane of the egg, but the smaller water molecules can. Water moves from the less concentrated egg solution to the more concentrated sugar solution until the equilibrium is reached. Therefore water moves from the egg to the sugar solution via osmosis, shrinking the egg as the water leaves it.
To rehydrate the egg, place into plain water. In this instance the concentration of the liquid inside the egg is higher than the water, so water moves from the water to the egg.
When we pricked the egg soaked in water, water shot out of the egg. This is because the egg had absorbed water, increasing the pressure inside it.
Why does egg shell dissolve in vinegar?
The egg shell dissolves in the vinegar as the acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the calcium carbonate of the the shell, Carbon dioxide is given off during this reaction so you should see bubbles of gas escaping.
More osmosis experiments
Can you weigh the eggs at each stage to monitor the loss/gain of water?
Try adding food colouring to the water and watch as the eggs absorb the coloured water.
What do you think would happen if you left an egg in a glass of golden syrup?
Try measuring the egg at each stage of the investigation.
We used thread to measure the diameter of the egg at its widest point after the shell was first removed, after soaking in vinegar and after soaking in golden syrup.
The longest thread is after the egg was soaked in water, this is because the concentration of water inside the egg is lower than outside the egg so water has moved into the egg.
The shortest thread is from the egg soaked in golden syrup as water has moved by osmosis out of the egg into the golden syrup as the concentration of water inside the egg is higher than outside.
Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling raw eggs
More egg experiment for kids
Learn about tooth decay with eggs. Did you know an egg shell is similar to the outer coating on our teeth?
Find out how to transform egg white into meringue and make a tasty dessert at the same time.
Finally, did you know you can make an egg bounce?