Passive & Active Transport in Cells

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

In order for your cells to survive, nutrients and other substances must be allowed to move in and out across the cell membrane. Sometimes this requires energy (active transport), and sometimes it does not (passive transport). Updated: 01/15/2020

Concentration Gradient

I am a big sports fan. For me, there is nothing more exciting than the roar of a crowd as a football player makes a great catch. Large football stadiums can hold more than 100,000 people. The flow of fans entering a stadium is controlled by gates. As game time approaches, crowds start to form in the parking lot outside the stadium gates. When the gates open, the hordes of fans move into the empty stadium seats. This is a fairly easy process because the fans are moving from the highly populated parking lot to the less populated stadium. We call this moving with the concentration gradient. A concentration gradient is a measurement of how the concentration or amount of a substance differs between two areas. Moving with a concentration gradient doesn't require much effort or energy; you are just kind of going with the flow.

But, what if one of the fans gets inside the stadium gate and then realizes that he left his big foam finger in the car? He would have to move back through the gate against the concentration gradient. This would require a lot of energy. Much like fans have to move into and out of a stadium to support their team, substances must move into and out of your cells to support their survival. To do so, substances must cross through the membrane that surrounds the cell. Sometimes this movement requires energy, and sometimes it does not.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Osmosis, Diffusion and Saturation

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 Concentration Gradient
  • 1:39 Simple Diffusion
  • 2:24 Facilitated Diffusion
  • 3:09 Osmosis
  • 4:00 Sodium-Potassium Pump
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Simple Diffusion

We use the term passive transport for transport across the cell membrane that does not require energy. The cell membrane acts as a barrier to separate the contents of your cell from the surrounding environment. This membrane doesn't allow every substance to pass through. However, there are some small, uncharged substances, like oxygen and carbon dioxide, that can cross the cell membrane unaided. These substances move by simple diffusion, which is the movement of substances from areas of higher concentration to lower concentration without assistance. With simple diffusion substances move without energy or help, it would be like entering the stadium without having to pass through the gates.

Facilitated Diffusion

Another type of passive transport is facilitated diffusion. If something is 'facilitated,' it has help, so facilitated diffusion is the movement of substances from areas of higher concentration to lower concentration with assistance. This is needed for substances that are large or not compatible with a cell membrane. The assistance comes from proteins embedded in the cell membrane. These transport proteins have one end inside the cell and the other end outside. They act as a channel or carrier allowing the passage of needed substances that can't diffuse on their own. This is similar to the gates of the stadium that ushered in the sports fans.


Osmosis is a type of passive transport that involves the movement of water across a cell membrane. Osmosis helps even out the concentration of solutes or dissolved substances without having to move the solutes themselves. Let's look at an example. In this cell, we see more solutes inside compared to outside. To balance the concentration of solutes, we could either use a lot of energy to move the solutes or passively allow water to cross the cell membrane using osmosis. Your cells like easy, so they are going to choose osmosis. In this case, water moves into the cell causing the cell to swell. Osmosis continues until the inside and outside of the cell have the same concentration of solutes.

Osmosis balances the concentration between the inside and outside of a cell
Diagram of osmosis

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account