Explainer: Ions and radicals in our world

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acidic: An adjective for materials that contain acid. These materials often are capable of eating away at some minerals such as carbonate, or preventing their formation in the first place.

aerosol: (adj. aerosolized) A tiny solid or liquid particle suspended in air or as a gas. Aerosols can be natural, such as fog or gas from volcanic eruptions, or artificial, such as smoke from burning fossil fuels.

aluminum: A metallic element, the third most abundant in Earth’s crust. It is light and soft, and used in many items from bicycles to spacecraft.

atom: The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

bond: (in chemistry) A semi-permanent attachment between atoms — or groups of atoms — in a molecule. It’s formed by an attractive force between the participating atoms. Once bonded, the atoms will work as a unit. To separate the component atoms, energy must be supplied to the molecule as heat or some other type of radiation.

cation: An atom or molecule with a positive charge, due to the loss of one or more electrons

chain reaction: An event that once started continues to keep itself going. It’s a term frequently used to describe atomic fission in a nuclear power plant. By packing enough fuel closely enough together, neutrons released by fissioning atoms bombard neighboring atoms, inducing them to fission. This sets up a self-sustaining process.

chemical: A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.

chemical reaction: A process that involves the rearrangement of the molecules or structure of a substance, as opposed to a change in physical form (as from a solid to a gas).

chemistry: The field of science that deals with the composition, structure and properties of substances and how they interact. Scientists use this knowledge to study unfamiliar substances, to reproduce large quantities of useful substances or to design and create new and useful substances. (about compounds) Chemistry also is used as a term to refer to the recipe of a compound, the way it’s produced or some of its properties. People who work in this field are known as chemists. (in social science) A term for the ability of people to cooperate, get along and enjoy each other’s company.

chlorine: A chemical element with the scientific symbol Cl. It is sometimes used to kill germs in water. Compounds that contain chlorine are called chlorides.

compound: (often used as a synonym for chemical) A compound is a substance formed when two or more chemical elements unite (bond) in fixed proportions. For example, water is a compound made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

conducting: (in physics and engineering) The process or ability of some structure to direct a flow through it of some current (especially an electric current).

dissolve: To turn a solid into a liquid and disperse it into that starting liquid. (For instance, sugar or salt crystals, which are solids, will dissolve into water. Now the crystals are gone and the solution is a fully dispersed mix of the liquid form of the sugar or salt in water.)

electricity: A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

electron: A negatively charged particle, usually found orbiting the outer regions of an atom; also, the carrier of electricity within solids.

element: A building block of some larger structure. (in chemistry) Each of more than one hundred substances for which the smallest unit of each is a single atom. Examples include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, lithium and uranium.

equation: In mathematics, the statement that two quantities are equal. In geometry, equations are often used to determine the shape of a curve or surface.

hydrogen: The lightest element in the universe. As a gas, it is colorless, odorless and highly flammable. It’s an integral part of many fuels, fats and chemicals that make up living tissues. It’s made of a single proton (which serves as its nucleus) orbited by a single electron.

ion: (adj. ionized) An atom or molecule with an electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons. An ionized gas, or plasma, is where all of the electrons have been separated from their parent atoms.

magnet: A material that usually contains iron and whose atoms are arranged so they attract certain metals.

metal: Something that conducts electricity well, tends to be shiny (reflective) and is malleable (meaning it can be reshaped with heat and not too much force or pressure).

particle: A minute amount of something.

poles: (in physics and electrical engineering) The ends of a magnet. (in chemistry) two areas of opposite electrical charge, one positive and one negative.

proton: A subatomic particle that is one of the basic building blocks of the atoms that make up matter. Protons belong to the family of particles known as hadrons.

radiation: (in physics) One of the three major ways that energy is transferred. (The other two are conduction and convection.) In radiation, electromagnetic waves carry energy from one place to another. Unlike conduction and convection, which need material to help transfer the energy, radiation can transfer energy across empty space.

radical: (in chemistry) A molecule having one or more unpaired outer electrons. Radicals readily take part in chemical reactions. The body is capable of making radicals as one means to kill cells, and thereby rid itself of damaged cells or infectious microbes.

reactive: (in chemistry) The tendency of a substance to take part in a chemical process, known as a reaction, that leads to new chemicals or changes in existing chemicals.

redox: A short-hand term in chemistry for reactions that involve reduction and/or oxidation (the reducing and oxidizing of chemicals). These are changes that occur with the gain and/or loss of an electron. When something is reduced, one of its atoms gains an electron — to become stable — by stealing it from another atom or molecule. A compound used to offer up that needed electron is known as a reducing agent.

reduction: (in chemistry) A process in which an atom gains an electron by stealing it from another atom or molecule. Reduction is the opposite of oxidation.

salt: A compound made by combining an acid with a base (in a reaction that also creates water). The ocean contains many different salts — collectively called “sea salt.” Common table salt is a made of sodium and chlorine.

sodium: A soft, silvery metallic element that will interact explosively when added to water. It is also a basic building block of table salt (a molecule of which consists of one atom of sodium and one atom of chlorine: NaCl). It is also found in sea salt.

species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

stratosphere: The second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere, or ground layer. The stratosphere stretches from roughly 14 to 64 kilometers (9 to about 31 miles) above sea level.

ultraviolet: A portion of the light spectrum that is close to violet but invisible to the human eye.

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