Thorp, H. Holden Department of Chemistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Last reviewed:February 2020
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- Strong and weak electrolytes
- Physiological roles
- Related Primary Literature
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A chemical compound which, when molten or dissolved in certain solvents, will conduct an electric current. Electrolytes are composed of positively charged species, called cations, and negatively charged species, called anions. For example, sodium chloride (NaCl) is an electrolyte composed of sodium cations (Na+) and chlorine anions (Cl−). The ratio of cations to anions is always such that the substance is electrically neutral. If two wires connected to a light bulb and to a power source are placed in a beaker of water, the light bulb will not glow (Fig. 1). If an electrolyte, such as sodium chloride, is dissolved in the water, the light bulb will glow because the solution can now conduct electricity. The amount of electric current that can be carried by an electrolyte solution is proportional to the number of ions dissolved. Thus, the bulb will glow more brightly if the amount of sodium chloride in the solution is increased. See also: Electric current; Ion
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