The measurement of the volume of intact, viable cells presents challenging problems in many areas of experimental and diagnostic science involved in the evaluation of cellular morphology, growth and function. This investigation details the implementation of a recently developed quantitative phase microscopy (QPM) method to measure the volume of erythrocytes under a range of osmotic conditions. QPM is a computational approach which utilizes simple bright field optics to generate cell phase maps which, together with knowledge of the cellular refractive index, may be used to measure cellular volume. Rat erythrocytes incubated in imidazole-buffered solutions (22 degrees C) of graded tonicity were analysed using QPM (n=10 cells/group, x63, 0.8 NA objective). Erythrocyte refractive index (1.367) was measured using a combination of phase and morphological data obtained from cells adopting spherical geometry under hypotonic conditions. Phase-computed volume increased with decreasing solution osmolality: 42.8 +/- 2.4, 48.7 +/- 2.3, 62.6 +/- 2.3, 90.8 +/- 7.7 microm3 in solutions of 540, 400, 240, and 170 mosmol/kg respectively. These volume changes were associated with crenated, bi-concave and spherical morphological states associated with increasing tonicity. This investigation demonstrates that QPM is a valid, simple and non-destructive approach for measuring cellular phase properties and volume. QPM cell volume analysis represents a significant advance in viable cell experimental capability and provides for acquisition of 'real-time' data - an option not previously available using other approaches.