Thread: Redox ?
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Old 01/10/2008, 07:28 AM   #2
Randy Holmes-Farley
Reef Chemist
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Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Arlington, Massachusetts
Posts: 86,233
Sure. This article has light and heavy science explanations.

ORP and the Reef Aquarium

here's the light one:

Simplified ORP

Imagine a reef aquarium as a vast battlefield. No, more vast. Much, much more. OK, that's ORP. That is, ORP is a measure of who is winning and who is losing the battle. The battle is never won by one side or the other. As an aquarist, you do not want it to be, or else everything in the tank would be dead. In other situations, such as the purification of tap water for drinking, allowing the oxidizers to win is fine. A high enough ORP (650+ mV) can kill most bacteria in a few seconds.

On one side of this aquarium battle there are the oxidizers. They all want to get electrons, and they rip them off of the bodies of the enemy. The foot soldiers of the oxidizers are oxygen molecules (O2). Did I say the battle is vast? On one day last week, there were 342,418,226,849,748,675,496,726 of these little guys roaming my aquarium, looking for action. Some of these are paratroopers, arriving at the aquarium out of the air. Others are made in secret labs, otherwise known as photosynthetic organisms such as many corals and algae.

Unfortunately, despite their vast numbers, the oxygen molecules are not very effective fighters. In many cases, they can swarm all over the enemy and still not prevail. The true leaders of the oxidizers are far less numerous, but considerably more potent fighters. These include ozone (O3), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), triplet oxygen (3O2), and a variety of oxygen radicals, some with such inspiring names such as superoxide radical (O2-). They also include chlorine (Cl2) and chloramine (NH2Cl). It turns out that oxygen molecules (O2) can occasionally morph into some of these better fighters (such as hydrogen peroxide), sometimes all on their own, but most frequently when they get blasted with UV light.

The oxidizers also have other types of fighters. Some are present at very low concentration, but are so sensitive to the state of the battle, that one can gauge the battle by how many of them are left standing at any given point in time. Metals, for example, such as iron (as ferric ion, Fe+++) can serve this purpose. The other oxidizers also include anions such as hypochlorite (ClO-), iodate (IO3-) and nitrate (NO3-), among a host of others.

On the other side are the reducers. The reducers all want to get rid of electrons, and they virtually throw them at the oxidizers. Many of these are organic molecules. They are not as numerous as the oxidizers, but many are much larger. Some are more than 10,000 times as large as an oxygen molecule. So they can make up for low numbers with pure brawn. That is not to say that the reducers do not have small but potent soldiers. The antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin C, for example, are small but extremely potent reducing agents. The reducers also number on their side some inorganic compounds, such as ammonia, iodide, and a really nasty fellow, sulfide.

The reducers come from fish food, metabolic waste products, the breakdown of dead organisms, and certain additives put into the aquarium (e.g., iron supplements that contain ferrous ion). The surfaces of most organisms themselves enter the fray as reducers, waiting to be oxidized by the enemy.

Interestingly, most soldiers on both sides are suicide attackers. Oxygen, ozone, and hydrogen peroxide are all destroyed when they react with a reducer. While not strictly suicidal, most organics are heavily damaged by oxidizer attacks, and are slowly degraded, eventually ending up as carbon dioxide if oxidized enough. They tend to be found in areas that the oxidizers hate; that is, in areas of low oxygen. Yet, the reducers are also sneaky, and even manage to get their hands inside cells (even finding positions in photosynthesis itself).

Randy Holmes-Farley

Current Tank Info: 120 mixed reef
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