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free radical

free radical, in chemistry, a molecule or atom that contains an unpaired electron but is neither positively nor negatively charged. Free radicals are usually highly reactive and unstable. They are produced by homolytic cleavage of a covalent bond (see chemical bond); i.e., each of the atoms connected by the bond retains one of the two electrons making up the bond. The homolytic cleavage of a hydrogen molecule, H2, produces two hydrogen free radicals (hydrogen atoms). Similarly, two chlorine free radicals can be produced from a chlorine molecule. Homolytic cleavage of the carbon-bromine bond in methyl bromide, CH3Br, would produce a methyl free radical and a bromine free radical. The term free is often dropped in referring to free radicals; this could lead to confusion if the term radical were used synonymously with group in organic chemistry, e.g., by calling an alkyl group an alkyl radical when free radical was not intended.

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free radical

free radical An atom or group of atoms with an unpaired valence electron. Free radicals are formed when a bond is broken without forming ions. Because of their unpaired electrons, most free radicals are extremely reactive. For example, superoxide free radicals, formed in the body during normal metabolic processes and as a reaction to toxins and infections, have damaging effects on cells and tissues. See also antioxidants; superoxide dismutase.

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free radical

free rad·i·cal • n. Chem. an uncharged molecule (typically highly reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valence electron.

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