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Oxidizing and Reducing Agents

Introduces oxidizing and reducing agents and redox half reactions.

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Powerful Oxidizers

Oxidizing agents are all around us.

License: CC BY-NC 3.0


Recall that oxidation and reduction refer to the transfer of electrons between atoms. Oxidation is the process of losing electrons, while reduction is the process of gaining electrons. An oxidizing agent is a substance that causes another atom to be oxidized. Strong oxidizing agents are highly reactive and dangerous to most forms of life. One of the most powerful oxidizing agents known to man is Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2), and it’s probably in your kitchen. Don’t get any ideas, though. H2O2 is commonly used in very low concentrations (3% or less) as a disinfectant because it can kill bacterial cells upon contact by disrupting cell walls. However, in its purest form, H2O2 is extremely dangerous. It causes severe burns upon contact with skin, and has even been used by terrorists in improvised explosive devices.

Creative Applications

1. Here are the oxidation potentials for other strong oxidizers:


Is there a trend in electronegativity (for the elemental oxidizing agents)?

2. The above graph uses volts to measure oxidation potential. Why?

3. Historically, there have been claims that drinking, inhaling or otherwise ingesting H2O2 can act as a “miracle cure” for disease. Given the properties of H2O2, do think this is advisable?

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