Reduction in Chemistry: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:02 Reduction in Chemistry
  • 0:45 Why Reduction Happens
  • 2:18 Diagramming Reduction
  • 3:26 Redox Reactions
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
When atoms are greedy for electrons, they steal them from other atoms. This reduces their charge. You can see the effects of reduction in the world around you. Learn more about reduction in chemistry and see some examples of it.

Reduction in Chemistry

The electrons that swarm around the positively charged nucleus of an atom are negatively charged and mobile. Often times, atoms or compounds will gain an electron. The process of an atom or compound gaining an electron is known as reduction.

The addition of a negatively charged electron to an atom reduces the net charge on an atom. When a neutral fluorine atom contains an equal number of positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons, its overall charge is zero. If the fluorine atom is reduced, meaning it gains another electron, its new charge becomes -1.

Why Reduction Happens

Atoms are in a constant battle of wanting to be electrically satisfied; they are trying to find a balance between their positively charged nucleus and the negatively charged electrons that swarm around the nucleus. Sometimes when an atom or compound is lacking the electrons it wants, it will grab electrons from another source to achieve electrical satisfaction.

An atom's desire to become electrically satisfied is juxtaposed by its need to have its electrons organized in a favorable fashion. The way that electrons are organized around the nucleus is called the electron configuration. Certain electron configurations are more energetically favorable than others. Often times, atoms will forgo the need to be neutrally charged and have the same number of protons as electrons in order to achieve these ideal electron configurations. It is this need that drives the process of reduction.

Generally speaking, favorable electron configurations occur when an atom has achieved a full octet, meaning it has a total of eight electrons in the top layer of its electron configuration. Atoms that are close to having a full octet are greedy for electrons; they want nothing more than to take electrons so that they can achieve a full octet. Reduction of elements such as fluorine, oxygen, chlorine, and bromine is very easy to do because these atoms are so close to having a favorable electron configuration.

Diagramming Reduction

reduction of fluorine

Reduction of Fluorine

The images above show the reduction of fluorine. In figure 1, the element fluorine, represented by F, is surrounded by seven of its own electrons, represented as black dots. At this point, fluorine is neutrally charged. In figure 2, fluorine is getting reduced because it is gaining an electron. This electron is yellow to represent that it comes from an outside source. In figure 3, fluorine has been reduced and now has a full octet. Its charge is -1.


Above, we see the reduction of oxygen. In figure 1, the element oxygen, represented by O, is surrounded by six of its own electrons, represented by black dots. At this point oxygen is neutrally charged. Oxygen needs two electrons in order to have a full octet. In figure 2, oxygen is getting reduced, gaining two electrons from an outside source. In figure 3, oxygen has been reduced and now has a full octet. Its charge is -2.

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