Svante Arrhenius took his first breath in Vic Castle, Sweden in 1859. By the age of three, he had taught himself to read without assistance from his parents. He soon became an arithmetical prodigy after watching his father, a surveyor perform calculations. In 1884, he suggested that solid, crystalline salts disassociate into paired, charged particles when they dissolve. This was the first, tentative step to finding out what electrolytes are, how they work, and what they do.
More Clues to What Electrolytes Are from Faraday’s Work
Michael Faraday, born in England in 1791 was the father of electromagnetism, and electrochemistry. Decades before Arrhenius took his bold step forward, Faraday had already invented the name “ions” for charged particles. He believed they formed during the process he called electrolysis. However, Arrhenius did not think the presence of an electric current was necessary for the crystalline salts to separate.
Our Modern Understanding of What Electrolytes Are
Chemists believe we now know exactly how electrolytes work, and what electrolytes are. They form when we add a salt to a solvent such as water, causing the components to separate. The number of ions produced depends on the saturation of the solution. This is why we regularly top up the water in unsealed lead-acid batteries to maintain the optimum balance.
Are Electrolytes the Source of All Life?
That is a deep, deep question and we will not attempt an answer here. We do know that all life forms require a subtle, but complex electrolyte balance between the environments inside, and outside their cells. These gradients manage our body hydration, nerve and muscle function, and the acidity level of our blood. If we dehydrate and need a top up, then fruit juice, milk, nuts, potatoes, and avocados are all naturally electrolyte-rich.
Preview Image: Svante Arrhenius