Anode

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An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID (Anode Current Into Device).

A widespread misconception is that anode polarity is always positive (+). This is often incorrectly inferred from the correct fact that in all electrochemical devices negatively charged anions move towards the anode (hence their name) and/or positively charged cations move away from it. In fact anode polarity depends on the device type, and sometimes even in which mode it operates, as per the above electric current direction-based universal definition. Consequently, as can be seen from the following examples, in a device which consumes power the anode is positive, and in a device which provides power the anode is negative:

  • In a discharging battery or galvanic cell (diagram at right) the anode is the negative terminal since that is where the current flows into the device (see drawing). This inward current is carried externally by electrons moving outwards, negative charge moving one way constituting positive current flowing the other way. It is continued internally by positive ions flowing into the electrolyte from the anode, i.e., away (surprisingly) from the more negative electrode and towards the more positive one (chemical energy is responsible for this "uphill" motion).
  • In a recharging battery, or an electrolytic cell, the anode is the positive terminal, which receives current from an external generator. The current through a recharging battery is opposite to the direction of current during discharge; In other words, the electrode which was the cathode during battery discharge becomes the anode while the battery is recharging.
  • In a diode, it is the positive terminal at the tail of the arrow symbol, where current flows into the device. Note electrode naming for diodes is always based on the direction of the forward current (that of the arrow, in which the current flows "most easily"), even for types such as zener diodes or solar cells where the current of interest is the reverse current.
  • In a cathode ray tube, it is the positive terminal where electrons flow out of the device, i.e., where positive electric current flows in.

An electrode through which current flows the other way (out of the device) is termed a cathode.

Contents

Etymology

The word was coined in 1834 from the Greek ἄνοδος (anodos), 'ascent', by William Whewell, who had been consulted[1] by Michael Faraday over some new names needed to complete a paper on the recently discovered process of electrolysis. In that paper Faraday explained that when an electrolytic cell is oriented so that electric current traverses the "decomposing body" (electrolyte) in a direction "from East to West, or, which will strengthen this help to the memory, that in which the sun appears to move", the anode is where the current enters the electrolyte, on the East side: "ano upwards, odos a way ; the way which the sun rises" ([2], reprinted in [3]).

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