Electrolysis Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Did you know you can break water? In this lesson, you'll learn how electrolysis works and how scientists can use it to split molecules of water. We'll also explore how electrolysis might mean that the cars of the future could run on water.

What is Electrolysis?

Look into the sky on a stormy day and you'll see lightning bolts streaking through the sky. Crash! Oh no, lightning just struck a tree and broke it! Lightning is a flash of electricity that is so powerful it can split a tree. Electricity can be scary, but it can also be useful.

Scientists have learned how to use the power of electricity to split elements and compounds. This process is called electrolysis. Elements are substances made up of a single type of atom, while compounds are substances made up of elements.

The term 'electrolysis' is easy to remember if you break the word down into its parts. The first part of the word, electro, refers to electric. The second part of the word, lysis, is a scientist's way of saying that something is splitting. So, electrolysis is 'electric splitting.'

How Does Electrolysis Work?

To understand how electrolysis works, let's split a compound that you're familiar with: water. Water is a nice refreshing drink, but if we look inside water, we see that it contains molecules of H2O, which are chemical compounds made up of hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms.

To perform our experiment, we will need to make an electric current, which means we need to flow electricity through the water. The electric current will pass between a negatively charged electrode called a cathode and a positively charged electrode called an anode. (An electrode is something that conducts or carries electricity.) You can remember that the anode is the positively charged electrode by thinking of it as the electrode with a positive attitude. In other words, the anode is feeling A-okay.

In electrolysis, an electric current flows between a cathode and anode.

Water doesn't conduct, or carry, electricity very well, so we can add salt to make it a better conductor. Salt is a compound made up of ions of sodium and chloride. Ions are electrically charged atoms, and they will help the electricity flow through our watery solution.

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