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Electrochemical cells that use an oxidation-reduction reaction to generate an electric current are known as galvanic or voltaic cells. Because the potential of these cells to do work by driving an electric current through a wire is measured in units of volts, we will refer to the cells that generate this potential from now on as voltaic cells.Let's take another look at the voltaic cell in the figure below.Within each half-cell, reaction occurs on the surface of the metal electrode. At the zinc electrode, zinc atoms are oxidized to form Zn2+ ions, which go into solution. The electrons liberated in this reaction flow through the zinc metal until they reach the wire that connects the zinc electrode to the platinum wire. They then flow through the platinum wire, where they eventually reduce an H+ ion in the neighboring solution to a hydrogen atom, which combines with another hydrogen atom to form an H2 molecule.The electrode at which oxidation takes place in a electrochemical cell is called the anode. The electrode at which reduction occurs is called the cathode. The identity of the cathode and anode can be remembered by recognizing that positive ions, or cations, flow toward the cathode, while negative ions, or anions, flow toward the anode. In the voltaic cell shown above, H+ ions flow toward the cathode, where they are reduced to H2 gas. On the other side of the cell, Cl- ions are released from the salt bridge and flow toward the anode, where the zinc metal is oxidized.
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