Scientists Say: Oxidation and Reduction

These are chemical processes that take electrons from one atom and give it to another

These iron bolts are rusted. The metal has undergone an oxidation-reduction reaction with water.

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Oxidation and Reduction (noun, “Ox-ih-DAY-shun”, noun “Re-DUCK-shun”)

Oxidation is a process in which one or more of an atom’s negatively charged particles — electrons — are stolen by another atom. Reduction is a process in which an atom steals one or more electrons from another type of atom. These processes occur together. When this happens, the atom doing the electron-stealing gets reduced. The atom whose electron or electrons have been stolen is said to be oxidized.

Put together, oxidation-reduction reactions are also called redox reactions. They are very common chemical reactions. Rust, for example, is a redox reaction. When iron combines with water, the oxygen atoms in the water molecules steal electrons from the iron atoms. The oxygen is reduced — it gains electrons. The iron is oxidized — it loses electrons. The result of this chemical reaction is the breakdown of the metal over time.

In a sentence

A type of rewritable paper can be used over and over again thanks to oxidation and reduction.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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