Monday, April 03, 2006

Love Hurts ... Especially When You Become a Free Radical

Oxidation is about love. The love of electrons. Some atoms and molecules can endure the loss of their electrons, while others don't handle it well. Oxygen just can't bear it. Oxygen is a romantic particle. An oxygen particle that gives up an electron is called a singlet. Oxygen doesn't like to be a singlet. It would much rather have its electrons paired up so it can live happily ever after. But when the electron couple living in its outermost orbit breaks up, oxygen becomes depressed, angry, and violent. In short, it behaves radically and can do a lot of damage to the other atoms and molecules around it. There is no point in trying to console or comfort a jilted oxygen atom. It just won't be happy until it gets its electron back. That's the way love is.

Some molecules tolerate such romantic losses much better. These philosophical types usually don't become angry or violent when they lose electrons, so they can safely donate electrons to hot-tempered radicals like oxygen and calm them down. The generous compounds that exhibit this most unselfish form of love are called antioxidants.

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