Brownian movement or motion, zigzag, irregular motion exhibited by minute particles of matter when suspended in a fluid. The effect has been observed in all types of colloidal suspensions (see colloid)—solid-in-liquid, liquid-in-liquid, gas-in-liquid, solid-in-gas, and liquid-in-gas. It is named for the botanist Robert Brown who observed (1827) the movement of plant spores floating in water. The effect, being independent of all external factors, is ascribed to the thermal motion of the molecules of the fluid. These molecules are in constant irregular motion with a velocity proportional to the square root of the temperature. Small particles of matter suspended in the fluid are buffeted about by the molecules of the fluid. Brownian motion is observed for particles about 0.001 mm in diameter; these are small enough to share in the thermal motion, yet large enough to be seen with a microscope or ultramicroscope. The first satisfactory theoretical treatment of Brownian motion was made by Albert Einstein in 1905. Jean Perrin made a quantitative experimental study of the dependence of Brownian motion on temperature and particle size that provided verification for Einstein's mathematical formulation. Perrin's work is regarded as one of the most direct verifications of the kinetic-molecular theory of gases.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics