An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass (“go”) between electrodes in a solution, when an electric field is applied. It is from Greek ιον, meaning “going”.
Hydrogen atom (center) contains a single proton and a single electron. Removal of the electron gives a cation (left), whereas addition of an electron gives an anion (right). The hydrogen anion, with its loosely held two-electron cloud, has a larger radius than the neutral atom, which in turn is much larger than the bare proton of the cation. Hydrogen forms the only cation that has no electrons, but even cations that (unlike hydrogen) still retain one or more electrons, are still smaller than the neutral atoms or molecules from which they are derived.
Anions and cations
An anion (-) (pronounced /ˈæn.aɪ.ən/ an-eye-ən), from the Greek word ἄνω (ánō), meaning “up”, is an ion with more electrons than protons, giving it a net negative charge (since electrons are negatively charged and protons are positively charged).
Conversely, a cation (+) (pronounced /ˈkæt.aɪ.ən/ kat-eye-ən), from the Greek word κατά (katá), meaning “down”, is an ion with fewer electrons than protons, giving it a positive charge. Since the charge on a proton is equal in magnitude to the charge on an electron, the net charge on an ion is equal to the number of protons in the ion minus the number of electrons.