Scientists Say: Dioxide

When two oxygens are attached to some other atom, they get a special name

carbon dioxide

This is a model of a carbon dioxide molecule. The carbon is in black and the two oxygen atoms are in red. 

Jynto/Wikimedia Commons

Dioxide (noun, “dye-OX-ide”)

A molecule with two oxygen atoms bonded to some atom of a different element. The word “oxide” is used when a compound contains an oxygen atom. “Di” refers to a pair. The most famous dioxide is probably carbon dioxide. It is two oxygen atoms bound to a carbon, and we shed some into the air every time we exhale.

In a sentence

Mealworms chow down on Styrofoam, reducing it to waste and carbon dioxide.

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Power Words

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atom   The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

carbon dioxide  A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter (including fossil fuels like oil or gas) is burned. Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food. The abbreviation for carbon dioxide is CO2.

dioxide  A compound containing two oxygen atoms per molecule

molecule  An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

oxide  A compound made by combining one or more elements with oxygen. Rust is an oxide; so it water.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. 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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