Introduction to Oxidation-Reduction Reactions

Oxidation‐reduction reactions are some of the most important chemical reactions. Redox reactions, as they are called, are the energy‐producing reactions in industry as well as in the body. The core of a redox reaction is the passing of one or more electrons from one species to another. The species that loses electrons is said to be oxidized, and the species gaining electrons is reduced. These are old terms, but they are still used today. Oxidation and reduction occur simultaneously.

Oxidation numbers are assigned to each element in a chemical reaction to help us learn which element is oxidized and which is reduced. If, in a reaction, the oxidation number of an element increases (becomes more positive), the element is being oxidized. On the other hand, if the oxidation number of an element decreases, the element is being reduced. The changes in oxidation numbers are also used to balance redox equations. The goal is to keep the total number of electrons lost in the oxidation equal to the total number gained in the reduction. Clearly, the study of oxidation‐reduction reactions should begin by learning about oxidation numbers.