Anode vs. Cathode

What's the Difference?

Anode and cathode are two essential components in electrochemical cells. The anode is the electrode where oxidation occurs, meaning it loses electrons and becomes positively charged. On the other hand, the cathode is the electrode where reduction takes place, gaining electrons and becoming negatively charged. In simple terms, the anode is the source of electrons, while the cathode is the receiver. These two electrodes work together to create a flow of electrons, allowing the electrochemical cell to generate electricity.


Photo by ANIRUDH on Unsplash
DefinitionThe electrode where oxidation occurs in an electrochemical cell or device.The electrode where reduction occurs in an electrochemical cell or device.
PolarityPositive (+)Negative (-)
Electron FlowElectrons flow out of the anode.Electrons flow into the cathode.
Ions FlowIons flow towards the cathode.Ions flow towards the anode.
Mass Gain/LossMay experience mass loss due to oxidation.May experience mass gain due to reduction.
ExamplesZinc electrode in a zinc-carbon battery.Copper electrode in a copper-zinc battery.
Photo by Micah Boswell on Unsplash

Further Detail


In the world of electrochemistry, anode and cathode are two fundamental components that play crucial roles in various processes. Whether it's in batteries, electrolysis, or other electrochemical systems, understanding the attributes of anode and cathode is essential. In this article, we will delve into the characteristics, functions, and differences between these two electrodes.

Definition and Function

An anode is an electrode where oxidation occurs during an electrochemical reaction. It is the site where electrons are released, and positively charged ions are attracted. On the other hand, a cathode is an electrode where reduction takes place, attracting electrons and facilitating the reduction of positively charged ions. In simpler terms, the anode is where oxidation happens, while the cathode is where reduction occurs.

Electron Flow

When it comes to electron flow, the anode is the electrode from which electrons flow out of the system, while the cathode is the electrode where electrons flow into the system. This flow of electrons is essential for the overall functioning of electrochemical processes. For example, in a battery, the anode releases electrons, which then flow through an external circuit to the cathode, creating an electric current.


Another important attribute to consider is the polarity of the electrodes. The anode is typically assigned a positive polarity, while the cathode is assigned a negative polarity. This convention is based on the direction of electron flow. Electrons flow from the anode to the cathode, creating a potential difference between the two electrodes.

Chemical Reactions

Chemical reactions occurring at the anode and cathode differ due to their respective functions. At the anode, oxidation reactions take place, resulting in the loss of electrons. This leads to the formation of positively charged ions or the release of gases, depending on the specific reaction. On the other hand, at the cathode, reduction reactions occur, involving the gain of electrons and the formation of negatively charged ions or the deposition of metals.

Examples in Batteries

One of the most common applications where anode and cathode are present is in batteries. In a typical lithium-ion battery, the anode is made of graphite, which allows for the intercalation of lithium ions during charging. On the other hand, the cathode is usually composed of a lithium transition metal oxide, such as lithium cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate. These materials facilitate the reversible intercalation of lithium ions during the battery's operation.

Electrolysis and Electroplating

In electrolysis and electroplating processes, anode and cathode play crucial roles. During electrolysis, the anode is the electrode where oxidation occurs, leading to the release of electrons and the formation of positive ions. At the cathode, reduction takes place, resulting in the gain of electrons and the formation of negative ions or the deposition of metals. Electroplating, on the other hand, involves the deposition of a metal onto a surface. The anode is made of the metal to be plated, while the cathode is the object to be plated.

Corrosion and Protection

Corrosion is a common issue in various industries, and understanding the roles of anode and cathode is crucial in preventing it. In a corrosion cell, the anode is the site where oxidation and metal dissolution occur, leading to the formation of metal ions. The cathode, on the other hand, is where reduction reactions take place, often involving oxygen or water. By implementing protective measures, such as sacrificial anodes or coatings, the anode can be protected, preventing the corrosion process.


In summary, anode and cathode are essential components in electrochemical systems. The anode is where oxidation occurs, while the cathode is where reduction takes place. They have different functions, polarities, and chemical reactions. Understanding their attributes is crucial in various applications, from batteries to electrolysis and corrosion prevention. By comprehending the roles of anode and cathode, scientists and engineers can design and optimize electrochemical processes for a wide range of practical applications.

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