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(I'm looking for a very basic level explanation because my only chemistry experience is one fast-paced high school course.)

So, according to the professor of that course, ions are never found in nature as ions; everything would be neutrally charged. My question is, how can something have ions in it, without having them be neutralized? Doesn't nature want to lower potential energy, which would mean bonding the ions asap? Or am I misunderstanding things and said ions are already bonded to other ions, but they are still called ions even though the charge of the whole molecule should be neutral?

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you give a specific example? What sort of compound do you imagine? Btw, I don't see the connection between the title and body of your question $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 7 '18 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ what I meant was, how can ions just be floating about in some solution? wouldn't they try to bond with other ions? and an example is sodium chloride in pure water, which "does contain ions." $\endgroup$ – kat Aug 7 '18 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ I see. I don't have time to write an answer, but perhaps you would benefit from reading about solvation. Basically, yes, the ions attract each other, but also molecules with e.g. some dipole moment. In solution, their charge is then shielded by plenty of water molecules. $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Aug 7 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for your time, nevertheless; I'll go look into solvation. $\endgroup$ – kat Aug 7 '18 at 15:28
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Your teacher is almost right but some terminology needs to be clarified.

Pure substances will almost always be electrically neutral (and the exceptions involve temporary local transfer of electrons from one substance to another as when you rub a rubber balloon on a wall surface). Beyond a certain level of charge separation you get enough electrical potential to cause sparks which allows the charges to equalise again. So persistent charge imbalance isn't easy to get. I think that is what your teacher means.

But if you look inside some pure substances, they do contain ions, just an equal number of each to avoid the bulk material having an overall charge. Common salt, for example, consists of ions (Na+ and Cl- in equal numbers). The substance is neutral, but the individual atoms making it up are all ions.

So your teacher is wrong if she meant that ions don't exist in nature but correct if she meant that bulk substances are electrically neutral.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think I get what you mean. It would be wrong to say that a single ion can exist completely on its own. However, anions and cations can coexist in a 'substance' without forming molecules, if their collective charge is neutral? $\endgroup$ – kat Aug 13 '18 at 20:40

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