What is a Positive Charge?

Meaning of Positive Charge

Protons have a positive charge, neutrons have no charge, and electrons have a negative charge. Everything in the world, whether natural or synthetic, is made up of tiny structures called atoms, which are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

The balance of these particles determines the total charge of an atom. A positively charged object, such as a person after vigorously rubbing their sock-covered feet on a rug, contains more positive particles (protons) than negative ones (electrons).

Since positive atoms are attracted to negative ones and repelled by positive ones, the charges of the atoms that make up a piece of matter strongly influence its properties and behavior.

Most molecules are generally neutral, but large ones tend to have one or more discrete areas that exhibit a positive or negative charge.

Atomic Charges

Atoms, which are the basic unit of matter, have a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons, around which one or more electrons bind. The number of protons determines which element the atom is and is given as its atomic number.

For example, magnesium has 12 protons, giving it the atomic number 12, while oxygen has eight. When atoms join together, they become molecules.

Clothes dryers produce positively and negatively charged particles that stick together, creating static cling.

Electrons and protons are not the same size and weight (electrons are smaller and lighter than protons) but they do have the same amount of charge.

That is, an equivalent number of protons and electrons cancel each other out in terms of total charge. Since neutrons are neutral, their number does not affect the charge of an atom.

Although the total number of subatomic particles in an atom varies, atoms are normally electrically balanced, with an equal number of protons and electrons.

This means that atoms naturally have a neutral charge, but this can change by gaining or losing electrons through chemical and physical processes. When an electron is lost, the balance changes with an extra proton, giving the atom a positive charge.

The opposite is true for negatively charged atoms, which have gained an electron. When the balance of particles is disrupted, producing a positive or negative atom (or molecule), they are no longer called atoms. Instead, they are ions, with the positive ones called cations and the negative ones called anions.

Positive Charge and Behavior

The charge an object has influences how it reacts to its environment. Cations are attracted to anions, for example, but are repelled by other cations. Similarly, negatively charged atoms repel each other. This behavior is known as Coulomb’s law.

Positive atoms neither attract nor repel neutral ones, but through a phenomenon called electrostatic induction, an attraction can be created. This occurs because the electrons in some molecules tend to be more mobile when a positive charge is nearby.

The electrons in the neutral molecule can move towards the source of positive charge. The movement creates a negative charge at the point closest to the source, although the molecule does not change overall.

This phenomenon occurs most often with metals, which is what allows an electrical charge to flow through them.

Daily Applications

Many everyday items and processes use positive charges. When clothes are dropped in a clothes dryer, for example, the motion causes electrons to move from atoms on the surface of some items to others, giving the pieces of clothing different charges.

This is what leads to static cling, as the now positively and negatively charged particles attract each other and cause the clothes to stick together.

Dryer sheets often contain chemicals that have a positive charge, which stick to items, helping to turn negative ones back to neutral.

Another example is the laser printer, which prints text and images on paper by creating a series of positive and negative charges.

When a print job begins, the laser “writes” by transferring negatively charged static electricity to a positively charged drum. The toner, which is also positive, is then applied to the drum and is attracted to the negative areas. The drum is then rolled onto a sheet of negatively charged paper, and the toner adheres to it.

Biological Molecules

The combined total of all the atoms and ions that are part of a biological molecule is known as the net charge. Most molecules are generally neutral, but large ones tend to have one or more discrete areas that exhibit a positive or negative charge.

These areas strongly influence how the molecule folds and how it interacts with other molecules. For example, DNA and RNA are nucleic acids, but they behave very differently in part because their charges are distributed differently across their surfaces.

Scientific research often requires information about the charges of atoms and molecules because it affects the behavior of biologically active molecules.

One particular area where manipulation of molecular charges is very useful is rational drug design. Researchers in this field are working to develop more effective drugs, in some cases by manipulating the payload of a potential drug so that it interacts more efficiently with its target.

An atom is made up of subatomic particles.

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