electrode

electrode

[ih-lek-trohd]
electrode, terminal through which electric current passes between metallic and nonmetallic parts of an electric circuit. In most familiar circuits current is carried by metallic conductors, but in some circuits the current passes for some distance through a nonmetallic conductor. For example, in electrolysis current passes through a liquid electrolyte; in a fluorescent lamp current passes through a gas. An electrode is usually in the form of a wire, rod, or plate. It may be made of a metal, e.g., copper, lead, platinum, silver, or zinc, or of a nonmetal, commonly carbon. The electrode through which current passes from the metallic to the nonmetallic conductor is called the anode, and that through which current passes from the nonmetallic to the metallic conductor, the cathode. (Electron flow is in a direction opposite that of conventionally defined current.) In most familiar electric devices, current flows from the terminal at higher electric potential (the positive electrode) to the terminal at lower electric potential (the negative electrode); therefore, the anode is usually the positive electrode and the cathode the negative electrode. In some electric devices, e.g., an electric battery, nonelectric energy is converted to electric energy, causing current to flow within the device from the negative electrode to the positive electrode, so that the anode is the negative electrode and the cathode is the positive electrode.

Electric conductor, usually metal, used as one of two terminals to conduct electric current through a conducting medium. A simple voltaic cell, or battery, consists of two electrodes, usually one zinc and one copper, immersed in an electrolytic solution (see electrolyte). When a chemical reaction occurs in the solution, electrons gather on the zinc electrode, or cathode, which becomes negatively charged. At the same time, electrons are drawn from the copper electrode, the anode, giving it a positive charge. The difference in charge sets up a potential difference, or voltage, between the two electrodes. When they are connected by a conducting wire, electrons flow from the cathode to the anode, producing a current.

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