Scientists Say: Oxidation and Reduction

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

a very large and very rust bolt

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

Kazuhiko Nakao/EyeEm/Getty Images Plus

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 one atom steals one or more electrons from another type of atom. Both the theft and receipt of electrons 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 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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