Salt water is the most well-known instance of an ionic systems that conducts electricity, yet understanding why this happens no as straightforward as performing a house experiment top top the phenomenon. The reason comes down to the difference between ionic bonds and also covalent bonds, as well as understanding what happens once dissociated ions room subjected come an electrical field.

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In short, ionic compound conduct electricity in water due to the fact that they separate right into charged ions, which are then attractive to the oppositely charged electrode.

You need to recognize the difference between ionic and covalent binding to get a far better understanding the the electrical conductivity that ionic compounds.

Covalent bonds are developed when atom share electrons to complete their external (valence) shells. Because that example, elemental hydrogen has one “space” in its outer electron shell, therefore it deserve to bond covalently with one more hydrogen atom, through both sharing their electrons to to fill their shells.

An ionic bond functions differently. Part atoms, prefer sodium, have actually one or very couple of electrons in their outer shells. Various other atoms, like chlorine, have outer shells that just need one an ext electron to have a full shell. The extra electron in that an initial atom can transfer to the second to to fill that other shell.

However, the processes of losing and gaining elections create an imbalance between the fee in the nucleus and also the fee from the electrons, providing the resultant atom a net positive charge (when one electron is lost) or a net an unfavorable charge (when one is gained). These charged atom are referred to as ions, and also oppositely fee ions can be attracted together to type an ionic bond and an electrically neutral molecule, such as NaCl, or salt chloride.

The ionic bond that keep molecules like common salt (sodium chloride) together have the right to be broken apart in some circumstances. One instance is once they’re dissolved in water; the molecules “dissociate” right into their ingredient ions, which return them to their charged state.

The ionic bonds can also be broken if the molecules room melted under high temperature, which has actually the same impact when they continue to be in a molten state.

The fact that either of these processes leads to a repertoire of charged ions is central to the electrical conductivity the ionic compounds. In their bonded, solid states, molecules prefer salt nothing conduct electricity. But when they"re dissociated in a systems or v melting, castle can lug a current. This is due to the fact that electrons can’t move openly through water (in the same method they do in a conductive wire), but ions deserve to move freely.

To use a existing to a solution, two electrodes are inserted into the liquid, both attached to a battery or source of charge. The positively fee electrode is dubbed the anode, and the negatively charged electrode is dubbed the cathode. The battery sends out charge come the electrodes (in the much more traditional way involving electrons relocating through a hard conductive material), and also they become distinct sources of fee in the liquid, producing an electric field.

The ions in the systems respond come this electrical field according to their charge. The positively charged ions (sodium in a salt solution) space attracted come the cathode and the negatively charged ions (chloride ions in a salt solution) space attracted to the anode. This motion of charged particles is an electrical current, because current is just the activity of charge.

When the ions reach their corresponding electrodes, castle either get or lose electrons come revert to their elemental state. For dissociated salt, the positively charged sodium ion congregate in ~ the cathode and also pick up electron from the electrode, leaving it as elemental sodium.

At the exact same time, the chloride ions lose their “extra” electron at the anode, sending electrons into the electrode to finish the circuit. This process is why ionic compounds conduct electrical power in water.

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Lee Johnson is a freelance writer and science enthusiast, v a enthusiasm for distilling facility concepts right into simple, digestible language. He's written around science for number of websites including eHow UK and also WiseGeek, greatly covering physics and also astronomy. He was also a scientific research blogger for facets Behavioral Health's blog network for 5 years. He studied physics in ~ the open up University and graduated in 2018.