Can Certain Atoms Have a Charge

Atoms of certain elements naturally exist in a charged state, which means that they have either lost or gained electrons. It really is a matter of simple algebra. If an atom exists without an electron, it will have a single positive charge (1+) and if it exists without two electrons it will develop a double positive charge (2+). On the contrary, if an atom has an extra electron, it

Figure 1.1 This is a carbon atom. Protons (white) have a positive charge (+) and neutrons (shaded) are electrically neutral (n) are found in the nucleus. Electrons (black) have a negative charge (-) and orbit the nucleus at the speed of light!

will have a single negative charge (1-) and if an atom has two additional electrons it will have a double negative charge (2-). It is important to keep in mind that this isn't random; some atoms are simply more stable in a charged state. Charged atoms are often called electrolytes because their charge gives them electrical properties as discussed further below.

The processes of losing and gaining electrons are interrelated, as displayed in Figure 1.2. So, if one atom gains an electron, it is actually removing the electron from another atom which wants to give it up to become more stable. This activity is referred to as oxidation and reduction, whereby oxidation refers to the loss of an electron while reduction refers to the gain of an electron. You might be thinking that this may have

Figure 1.2 An electron is lost by the atom on the left (yielding a positive charge) and gained by the atom on the right (yielding a negative charge).

something to do with antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E and a whole host of others such as p-carotene and lycopene. If you were, then you are right and have the mind of a scientist. Furthermore, you may have heard the term oxidation used in reference to energy operations in our body (for example, oxidation of fat). Again, you would be on the right trackā€”but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Oxidation refers to when an atom or molecule loses an electron.

Many elements important to nutrition and the proper functioning of our body exist naturally in a charged state. These elements include sodium, chlorine, potassium, iodine, magnesium, and calcium. The charge associated with an atom is often displayed in superscript next to the element's symbol from the Periodic Table of Elements. For instance, sodium is written as Na+, potassium as K+ (both of which have given up an electron, while calcium is written as Ca2+ and magnesium as Mg2+ as they have given up two electrons. On the contrary, chlorine is written as Cl-, fluorine as F- and iodine as I- as they have gained an electron and thus a negative charge. Actually, we tend to refer to chlorine, fluorine, and iodine as chloride, fluoride, and iodide with respect to this electrical state.

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