In chemistry, the oxidation state is an indicator of the degree of oxidation of an atom in a chemical compound. The formal oxidation state is the hypothetical charge that an atom would have if all bonds to atoms of different elements were 100% ionic. Oxidation states are typically represented by integers, which can be positive, negative, or zero. In some cases the average oxidation state of an element is a fraction, such as 8/3 for iron in magnetite (Fe3O4). The highest oxidation state is +8 in the tetroxides of xenon, ruthenium and osmium, while the lowest is −4 for some elements in the carbon group.
The increase in oxidation state of an atom through a chemical reaction is known as an oxidation; a decrease in oxidation state is known as a reduction. Such reactions involve the formal transfer of electrons, a net gain in electrons being a reduction and a net loss of electrons being an oxidation. For pure elements, the oxidation state is zero.
The definition of the oxidation state listed by IUPAC is as follows:
Calculation of formal oxidation states
There are two common ways of computing the oxidation state of an atom in a compound. The first one is used for molecules when one has a Lewis structure, as is often the case for organic molecules, while the second one is used for simple compounds (molecular or not) and does not require a Lewis structure.
It should be remembered that the oxidation state of an atom does not represent the "real" charge on that atom: this is particularly true of high oxidation states, where the ionization energy required to produce a multiply positive ion are far greater than the energies available in chemical reactions. The assignment of electrons between atoms in calculating an oxidation state is purely a formalism, but is useful one for the understanding of many chemical reactions.
For more about issues with calculating atomic charges, see partial charge.
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