Radical (chemistry)

The hydroxyl radical, Lewis structure shown, contains one unpaired electron.
Hydroxide ion compared to a hydroxyl radical

In chemistry, a radical, also known as a free radical, is an atom, molecule, or ion that has at least one unpaired valence electron.[1][2] With some exceptions, these unpaired electrons make radicals highly chemically reactive. Many radicals spontaneously dimerize. Most organic radicals have short lifetimes.

A notable example of a radical is the hydroxyl radical (HO·), a molecule that has one unpaired electron on the oxygen atom. Two other examples are triplet oxygen and triplet carbene (CH
) which have two unpaired electrons.

Radicals may be generated in a number of ways, but typical methods involve redox reactions, Ionizing radiation, heat, electrical discharges, and electrolysis are known to produce radicals. Radicals are intermediates in many chemical reactions, more so than is apparent from the balanced equations.

Radicals are important in combustion, atmospheric chemistry, polymerization, plasma chemistry, biochemistry, and many other chemical processes. A majority of natural products are generated by radical-generating enzymes. In living organisms, the radicals superoxide and nitric oxide and their reaction products regulate many processes, such as control of vascular tone and thus blood pressure. They also play a key role in the intermediary metabolism of various biological compounds. Such radicals can even be messengers in a process dubbed redox signaling. A radical may be trapped within a solvent cage or be otherwise bound.

  1. ^ IUPAC Gold Book radical (free radical) PDF Archived 2017-03-02 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Hayyan, M.; Hashim, M.A.; Anjkut, I.M. (2016). "Superoxide Ion: Generation and Chemical Implications". Chem. Rev. 116 (5): 3029–85. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrev.5b00407. PMID 26875845.

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