Question

In the electrolytic refining of copper, what factor determines which piece of copper is the anode and which is the cathode?

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Since the oxidation reaction in the electrolytic refining of copper occurs at the anode, and the copper metal transforms into the Cu2+Cu^{2+} ions that are dissolved in the electrolyte, whereas at the cathode you have the reduction, in which the Cu2+Cu^{2+} ions from the solution are incorporated into the cathode, in effect you get that the copper gets dissolved at the anode, and then precipitated back into the metal at the cathode.

Therefore, if you want to purify the piece of copper, you first need to dissolved, which is done at the anode, and then only the Cu2+Cu^{2+} ions shall precipitate at the cathode, while the impurities shall either fall to the bottom of the cell or remain in the solution. You determine which shall be the cathode and which shall be the anode by connecting the cathode with the positive and the anode with the negative pole of the direct current source.

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