Gatewaylectrochemistry: Understanding Half-reactions


Table of Contents

Icon Legend
Ox amp; Red


Voltaic Cells

Cell Voltage

Calc. Potentials


Electrolytic Cells

Goal: to recognize and construct oxidation and reduction half-reactions

Working Definition:

'click' here for another definition. A half-reaction is the part of an overall reaction that represents, separately, either an oxidation or a reduction. Two half-reactions, one oxidation and one reduction, are necessary to completely describe a redox reaction.

An equation is worth 6.022 x 1023 words

When a nickel strip {Ni (s)} is placed in an aqueous solution of copper(II) sulfate {Cu2+, SO42-}, an immediate reaction occurs. Copper metal begins to deposit on the strip. The only source for metallic copper in this system is the copper(II) ions in solution. What is happening to the copper(II) ions to cause them to change into elemental copper? Let's represent this fascinating observation with a chemical equation:

'click' on the equation; 'click' here to reset.copper reduction

Click on the chemical equation to learn more

We have just written a half-reaction! In this equation, the copper(II) ion is being reduced {2+ 0}. When we balance a half-reaction, we first balance the mass of the participating species (atoms, ions, or molecules) and then the charge. In this case, the mass is balanced by adding a copper (atom or ion) to each side. To balance the charge, electrons are added. Notice the addition of 2 electrons to left side of the above equation. These electrons are necessary to reduce a copper(II) ion to metallic copper.

If copper(II) ion is being reduced, what is being oxidized? Another way to ask this question is 'where are those electrons coming from?'. Nickel, of course! What is the half-reaction for the oxidation of metallic nickel? Nickel must release 2 electrons to form the nickel(II) ion as shown in the following equation (remember that we balance the mass and then the charge):

'click' on the equation; 'click' here to reset.oxidation of Ni (s)

Click on the equation to learn more

Take a moment to work the following questions on a piece of paper. When finished, click on the question mark to reveal the answer.

'click' here for the solution! Write a half-reaction showing Zn being oxidized to Zn2+.

oxidation of Zn

'click' here for the solution! Write a half-reaction showing Br2 being reduced to Br.

reduction of bromine

Did you remember to balance the bromine (first) in the last question? Let's solve another one...

Cadmium's Contribution

Cadmium is a silvery, crystalline metal resembling zinc. A large part of the cadmium produced in the United States is used in electroplating metals, such as iron and steel, to protect them from corrosion. The process usually involves the half-reaction shown below. Balance this equation so that we can preserve our steel. Be careful of the cyanide!

select control
e  +  Cd[(CN)4]2– (aq) Cd (s)  +  CN (aq)  +  e

Before moving to the next page you should know how to write and balance a simple oxidation and reduction half- reaction.

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