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Every time a reducing agent loses electrons, it forms an oxidizing agent that could gain electrons if the reaction were reversed.Conversely, every time an oxidizing agent gains electrons, it forms a reducing agent that could lose electrons if the reaction went in the opposite direction.The idea that oxidizing agents and reducing agents are linked, or coupled, is why they are called conjugate oxidizing agents and reducing agents. The active metals in Group IA, for example, give up electrons better than any other elements in the periodic table.Conjugate comes from the Latin stem meaning "to join together." It is therefore used to describe things that are linked or coupled, such as oxidizing agents and reducing agents. The fact that an active metal such as sodium is a strong reducing agent should tell us something about the relative strength of the Na ion must be a weak reducing agent.The term reduction comes from the Latin stem meaning "to lead back." Anything that that leads back to magnesium metal therefore involves reduction.The reaction between magnesium oxide and carbon at 2000C to form magnesium metal and carbon monoxide is an example of the reduction of magnesium oxide to magnesium metal.Oxidation and reduction are therefore best defined as follows.Oxidation occurs when the oxidation number of an atom becomes larger.
Every reducing agent is therefore linked, or coupled, to a conjugate oxidizing agent, and vice versa.Reduction occurs when the oxidation number of an atom becomes smaller.The terms ionic and covalent describe the extremes of a continuum of bonding.One trend is immediately obvious: The main group metals act as reducing agents in all of their chemical reactions.Typical Reactions of Main Group Metals Metals act as reducing agents in their chemical reactions.