Atoms have no electric charge; if they acquire one, they are called ions. Ions are involved in a form of chemical bonding that produces extremely strong bonds between metals, or between a metal and a nonmetal. These substances, of which table salt is an example, are called ionic compounds. Ionization is the process whereby electrons are removed from an atom or molecule, as well as the process whereby an ionic substance, such as salt, is dissociated into its component ions in a solution such as water. There are several varieties of ionization, including field ionization, which almost everyone has experienced in the form of static electricity. Ion exchange, or the replacement of one ion by another, is used in applications such as water purification, while chemists and physicists use ions in mass spectrometry, to discover mass and structural information concerning atoms and molecules. Another example of ions at work (and a particularly frightening example at that) is ionizing radiation, associated with the radioactive decay following a nuclear explosion.

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