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An ion () is an atom or molecule that has a non-zero net electrical charge (its total number of electrons is not equal to its total number of protons). A cation is a positively-charged ion, while an anion is negatively charged. Because of their opposite electric charges, cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds, such as salts. Ions can be created by chemical means, such as the dissolution of a salt into water, or by physical means, such as passing a direct current through a conducting solution, which will dissolve the anode via ionization . Ions consisting of only a single atom are atomic or monatomic ions. If they consist of two or more atoms, then they are called molecular ions or polyatomic ions. In the case of physical ionization of a medium such as a gas, what are known as "ion pairs" are created by ion impact, and each pair consists of a free electron and a positive ion.

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