ionization

i·on·i·za·tion (ī'ə-nĭ-zāʹshən) n.
1. The formation of or separation into ions by heat, electrical discharge, radiation, or chemical reaction.
2. The state of being ionized.

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Process by which electrically neutral atoms or molecules are converted to electrically charged atoms or molecules (ions) by the removal or addition of negatively charged electrons.

It is one of the principal ways in which radiation transfers energy to matter, and hence of detecting radiation. In general, ionization occurs whenever sufficiently energetic charged particles or radiant energy travels through gases, liquids, or solids. A certain minimal level of ionization is present in the earth's atmosphere because of continuous absorption of cosmic rays from space and ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

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▪ chemistry and physics
      in chemistry and physics, any process by which electrically neutral atoms or molecules are converted to electrically charged atoms or molecules (ions). Ionization is one of the principal ways that radiation, such as charged particles and X rays, transfers its energy to matter.

      In chemistry, ionization often occurs in a liquid solution. For example, neutral molecules of hydrogen chloride gas, HCl, react with similarly polar water molecules, H2O, to produce positive hydronium ions, H3O+, and negative chloride ions, Cl-; at the surface of a piece of metallic zinc in contact with an acidic solution, zinc atoms, Zn, lose electrons to hydrogen ions and become colourless zinc ions, Zn2+.

      Ionization by collision occurs in gases (gas) at low pressures when an electric current is passed through them. If the electrons constituting the current have sufficient energy (the ionization energy is different for each substance), they force other electrons out of the neutral gas molecules, producing ion pairs (ion pair) that individually consist of the resultant positive ion and detached negative electron. Negative ions are also formed as some of the electrons attach themselves to neutral gas molecules. Gases may also be ionized by intermolecular collisions at high temperatures.

      Ionization, in general, occurs whenever sufficiently energetic charged particles or radiant energy travel through gases, liquids, or solids. Charged particles, such as alpha particles and electrons from radioactive materials, cause extensive ionization along their paths. Energetic neutral particles, such as neutrons and neutrinos, are more penetrating and cause almost no ionization. Pulses of radiant energy, such as X-ray and gamma-ray photons, can eject electrons from atoms by the photoelectric effect to cause ionization. The energetic electrons resulting from the absorption of radiant energy and the passage of charged particles in turn may cause further ionization, called secondary ionization. A certain minimal level of ionization is present in the Earth's atmosphere because of continuous absorption of cosmic rays from space and ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

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Universalium. 2010.

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