Redox

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Redox (shorthand for oxidation-reduction) reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation number (oxidation state) changed. This can be either a simple redox process, such as the oxidation of carbon to yield carbon dioxide (CO2) or the reduction of carbon by hydrogen to yield methane (CH4), or a complex process such as the oxidation of sugar(C6H12O6) in the human body through a series of complex electron transfer processes.


The term comes from the two concepts of reduction and oxidation. It can be explained in simple terms:

  • Oxidation is the loss of electrons or an increase in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion.
  • Reduction is the gain of electrons or a decrease in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion.

Though sufficient for many purposes, these descriptions are not precisely correct. Oxidation and reduction properly refer to a change in oxidation number — the actual transfer of electrons may never occur. Thus, oxidation is better defined as an increase in oxidation number, and reduction as a decrease in oxidation number. In practice, the transfer of electrons will always cause a change in oxidation number, but there are many reactions that are classed as "redox" even though no electron transfer occurs (such as those involving covalent bonds).

Non-redox reactions, which do not involve changes in formal charge, are known as metathesis reactions.

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