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Electrolysis is the process of using electricity to break a molecule down into its constituent elements.[1]

Michael Faraday, an English scientist, conducted many experiments using electrolysis and created two laws of electrolysis based on these experiments, which he published in 1833 and 1834.[2]

The first of these laws relates the products formed by electrolysis to the amount of electricity run through the initial substance. The equation is as follows: m = ZIt where m is the mass of the product in grams, I is the current of electricity in amperes, t is the time in seconds it took to produce the end result of the reaction, and Z is the constant of proportionality. The constant of proportionality is also called the electrochemical equivalent. The electrochemical equivalent varies from metal to metal. According to Faraday’s first law of electrolysis, the mass of primary product is directly proportional to the amount of electricity used during electrolysis.

Faraday’s second law of electrolysis relates the mass of the product of electrolysis to molar mass, the number of electrons, and the electrochemical equivalent, stating that the mass of the primary product in grams is directly proportional to the electrochemical equivalent as well as the ratio of molar mass to number of electrons in a reaction.

Faraday’s two laws can be combined to: m = IMt / Fn

Along with these two laws, Faraday is responsible for creating the term electrolysis.[3] The word comes from the Latin root “electro-,“ which means electric, and the Greek root “-lysis,” which means loosening. This meaning is quite accurate, as electrolysis “loosens” particles and separates them using electricity. These particles are cations and anions, also named by Faraday. Cations have positive charges, while anions are negatively charged. Cations and anions are separated from each other in electrolysis by a nonspontaneous reaction. Nonspontaneous reactions occur only when electrical energy is supplied.

An example is the electrolysis of water into oxygen and hydrogen by an electric current flowing through the water.

Electrolysis is used as a term to describe a method of epilation (hair removal) using electrical current.


  1. Wile, Jay L. Exploring Creation With Physical Science. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1999, 2000.
  2. Ahmad, Zaki. Principles of Corrosion Engineering and Corrosion Control. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006.
  3. Simpson, Colin F. and Mary Whittaker, ed. Electrophoretic techniques. New York: Academic Press Inc., 1983.