Category: 

What is a Catalyst?

Scientists often add a catalyst to a chemical solution to cause a reaction.
Article Details
  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
In Laos and China, deep-fried scorpion is a popular street food.  more...

November 26 ,  1789 :  Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the US for the first time.  more...

A catalyst is any substance that works to accelerate a chemical reaction. It can be organic, synthetic or metal. The process by which this substance speeds up or slows a reaction is called catalysis.

For any process to occur, energy, known as activation energy is required. Without the help of a catalyst, the amount of energy needed to spark a particular reaction is high. When one is present, the activation energy is lowered, making the reaction happen more efficiently. The substance generally works by either changing the structure of a molecule or by bonding to reactant molecules causing them to combine, react, and release a product or energy. For example, a catalyst is required for oxygen and hydrogen gases to combine and form water.

Without the help of a catalyst, chemical reactions might never occur or take a significantly longer period of time to react. When the chemical reaction occurs, the catalyst itself is not changed and is not part of the end result. Most times, it can be reused over and over in subsequent reactions.

Sometimes instead of accelerating a reaction, a catalyst works to slow a reaction that would normally not occur or occur very slowly. This type of substance is a negative catalyst, which is also referred to as an inhibitor. Inhibitors are important in medicine, where they are critical in treating mental illnesses, high blood pressure, cancer, and myriad other health problems.

Ad

A catalyst is used in two types of conditions, either chemical or biochemical. The most common in biochemical reactions are enzymes. Enzymes are highly specialized proteins that accelerate specific chemical reactions. They make life possible. For example, an enzyme found in saliva breaks up food for digestion on contact. With out this, it would take weeks for humans to digest our food.

Catalysts are also important in the laboratory as well as in manufacturing and industry. One of the most famous is the catalytic converter, which helps to prevent automobile emissions and make fuel consumption more efficient. Fertilizers are also catalysts that speed up plant growth.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

browncoat
Post 56
@pleonasm - It's interesting how the language changes. I didn't realize a catalyst was an actual scientific term, I'd always heard it in fantasy type novels, where they are talking about a person or object that's going to set events in motion or change the game somehow. Which is kind of the same definition, I suppose.
KoiwiGal
Post 55

@anon109023 - That's pretty much the reason why catalysts are used. They speed up reactions between chemicals and they sometimes can help a reaction to happen that might not otherwise happen.

For example, they need to use nickle as a catalyst when they are making margarine because it helps to make the vegetable fats react with hydrogen and solidify in that particular way. Nickle isn't in margarine though and it's only there to make the reaction happen or happen faster.

They also use enzymes in a lot of food production as they can speed up processing in various ways, or they can make food react in a particular way that's desirable.

pleonasm
Post 54

@anon2251 - Technically, a fertilizer isn't a catalyst in the scientific sense, because it doesn't make a chemical reaction faster (unless you are talking about a specific chemical fertilizer and a specific chemical reaction).

It is, however, a catalyst in the popular sense, in that it can accelerate plant growth.

But I'm not quite sure how to answer how you "get it back". If you are talking about fertilizer in gardens, generally you don't get it back. The nutrients go into the plants and then are either harvested, or put back into the soil, depending on what you do with the plants.

anon273469
Post 51

Can anyone tell me what pre-treater catalyst is?

TMarsella
Post 45

Suggested answer to anon 47109 for a 5 word definition of "catalyst."

Definition: Performance generated by outside addition.

anon127040
Post 42

mercuric chloride is a catalyst, and as written, most catalysts are reusable, so why isn't this one in particular reusable?

anon117624
Post 40

what is a synthetic catalyst? which one is better, synthetic catalyst or natural catalyst?

anon109023
Post 39

i can't find why a catalyst is used in industries other than the speed of a reaction. if anyone knows the answer, please help.

Lightbuld6
Post 32

lol i hacked this account

hananali
Post 22

How does catalyst affect the chemical reaction from thermodynamic and kinetic point of view?

anon70553
Post 18

an example of a catalyst is electricity or heat.

anon64873
Post 17

i need to do a project on catalysis and i can't find a question to base it on. the project is basically a long systematic answer (proof) to the main question in the beginning (aim). i just can't seem to think of a question to do my project on. any ideas please?

anon59347
Post 15

catalysts for chemical reactions: seven-letter word.

anon47109
Post 14

what is a simple, like five-word definition of a catalyst?

anon45229
Post 13

i need help if any one who wants to help me understand it. Answer me please.

anon29407
Post 4

think of a catalyst as someone encouraging a person to do something negative. eg. start a fight

anon25277
Post 3

describe the uses of catalysts in biochemical systems and industries.

anon19564
Post 2

what are the other samples of catalyst?

anon2251
Post 1

If a fertilizer is a catalyst, how do you get it back after a reaction?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email