1. Introduction and basic guide

What is oxidation and reduction in chemistry?

Redox processes are a type of chemical reaction in which one of the reacting compounds gets oxidized and the other gets reduced. A redox reaction involves a transfer of electrons. We say that a compound, or atom within a compound, gets oxidized when it loses electrons and the other component gets reduced when it gains electrons.

One of the most typical examples of a redox process is the rusting of iron. Iron metal, Fe0 (oxidation state = 0) reacts with oxygen from air, O2 (oxidation state = 0) to give rust, or iron (III) oxide, Fe2O3.

4 Fe0 (solid) + 3 O2  (gas) → 2 Fe2O3 (solid)

In this new compound, the new oxidation state of iron is +3. Iron has lost 3 electrons, therefore, getting oxidized:

Fe0 → Fe3+ + 3 e

On the other hand, the new oxidation state of oxygen is -2. Each oxygen atom has gained two electrons, getting reduced:

O2 + 4 e → 2 O2-

A typical example of a redox process is an explosion in which the explosive compound gets oxidized violently. C4 is a common plastic explosive, much more energetic than dynamite. The main component of C4 is RDX (Research Development Explosive), also known as cyclonite or, according to IUPAC, 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazinane.

The process of oxidation of RDX is thermodynamically favorable, and gives rise to a exothermic reaction, in which a large amount of energy is released in the form of heat and light, causing the explosion.

redox reactions are among the most basic chemistry concepts
Explosive oxidation of RDX from C4 explosives

The N–NO2 bonds are extremely unstable and prone to oxidation. That’s what makes this kind of compounds highly explosive.

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