electromotive series, list of metals whose order indicates the relative tendency to be oxidized, or to give up electrons (see oxidation and reduction); the list also includes the gas hydrogen. The electromotive series begins with the metal most easily oxidized, i.e., the metal with the greatest electron-donating tendency, and ends with the metal least easily oxidized. The tendency to be oxidized is not an absolute quantity; it can only be compared with the tendency of some other substance to be oxidized. In practice, the tendency to be oxidized, called the oxidation potential and expressed in volts, is measured relative to a standard hydrogen electrode, which is arbitrarily assigned an oxidation potential of zero. The oxidation potential measures the tendency of the half reaction M → M+n + n e - to occur, in which some metal M loses n electrons, e - , and acquires a positive charge of + n. The more positive the oxidation potential, the more readily oxidation takes place. The electromotive series is thus a list of the metals in the order of their tendency to undergo the half reaction. The series is also called the replacement series, since it indicates which metals replace, or are replaced by, other metals (or hydrogen) in compounds. In general, a metal will replace any other metal lower in the series and will be replaced by any metal higher in the series. The order of some common metals in the electromotive series, starting with the most easily oxidized, is: lithium, potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, aluminum, zinc, chromium, iron, cobalt, nickel, lead, hydrogen, copper, mercury, silver, platinum, and gold. A list arranged according to oxidation potential and including not only metals but also all other elements and ions is called the electrochemical series.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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