catalyst

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Catalyst

A catalyst is any agent that functions to speed up a reaction or process without being used up or changed itself.

In chemical reactions, molecules are changed by moving or rearranging atoms or clusters of atoms. For each reaction, to achieve these chemical transitions from one molecule to an altered molecule, a certain amount of energy is normally required to prepare the molecule to undergo change. This is referred to as the activation energy. Activation energy can be thought of as a barrier that prevents molecules from changing from one form to another.

In a chemical reaction, catalysts function to hold a molecule in a certain position or influence the strength of the individual chemical bonds that undergo change during the reaction. Catalysts speed up reactions by lowering the activation energy necessary for the reaction to take place. In living systems, most chemical reactions are catalyzed by proteins called enzymes.

Catalysts can be homogeneous or heterogeneous. A homogeneous catalyst is one that exists in the same phase (gas, liquid, or solid) as the reacting chemical. In biology, for example, enzymes are distributed in the liquid environment inside of cells, and the reacting chemicals are dissolved in the liquid state there as well. In contrast, heterogeneous catalysts exist in a different physical state than the reacting chemicals. For example, in automobiles, the catalytic converter is a solid phase platinum-based catalyst found in the exhaust system, but the reacting chemicals are found in the exhaust gases that pass through after combustion of the gasoline.

Catalysts can be slowed when various inhibitors or poisons are present. Inhibitors are agents that physically interact with the surface of a catalyst to slow or interfere with a chemical reaction. Often, molecules that act as inhibitors for a certain catalyst have shapes and structures very close to the chemical that normally interacts with the catalyst. The inhibitors differ chemically from the reacting chemical, however, so that they are unable to be chemically altered by the normal action of the catalyst. In the case of enzymes, specific inhibitors may often be used in drugs, such as the popular statin drugs used to lower cholesterol. In the example of the catalytic converter, heavy metals such as lead function as poisons by irreversibly combining with the catalytic surface of the platinum, destroying its catalytic properties.

Among the many catalysts used in forensic testing, scientists use inorganic catalysts in the analysis of paint samples and biological catalysts when analyzing DNA .

see also Chemical equations; Endothermic reaction; Exothermic reactions.

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catalyst Substance that speeds up the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed. Many industrial processes rely on catalysts, such as the Haber process for manufacturing ammonia. Metals or their compounds catalyse by adsorbing gases to their surface, forming intermediates that then readily react to form the desired product while regenerating the original catalytic surface. The metabolism of all living organisms depends on biological catalysts called enzymes.

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catalyst A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. The catalyst provides an alternative pathway by which the reaction can proceed, in which the activation energy is lower. It thus increases the rate at which the reaction comes to equilibrium, although it does not alter the position of the equilibrium. Enzymes are the catalysts in biochemical reactions; they are highly specific in the type of reaction they catalyse.

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cat·a·lyst / ˈkatl-ist/ • n. a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. ∎ fig. a person or thing that precipitates an event.

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catalyst An agent that participates in a chemical reaction, speeding the rate, but itself remains unchanged. Catalysts are used, for example, in the hydrogenation of vegetable oils. Enzymes and coenzymes are biological catalysts.

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catalyst (kat-ă-list) n. a substance that alters the rate of a chemical reaction but is itself unchanged at the end of the reaction. The catalysts of biochemical reactions are the enzymes.