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  • 1: a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
  • 2: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action


Catalyst (or Catalysis) the process in which the rate of a chemical reaction is either increased or decreased by means of a chemical substance known as a catalyst. Unlike other reagents that participate in the chemical reaction, a catalyst is not consumed by the reaction itself. The catalyst may participate in multiple chemical transformations. Catalysts that speed the reaction are called positive catalysts. Catalysts that slow down the reaction are called negative catalysts or inhibitors. Substances that increase the activity of catalysts are called promoters and substances that deactivate catalysts are called catalytic poisons.

The general feature of catalysis is that the catalytic reaction has a lower rate-limiting free energy change to the transition state than the corresponding uncatalyzed reaction, resulting in a larger reaction rate at the same temperature. However, the mechanistic origin of catalysis is complex. Catalysts may affect the reaction environment favorably, e.g. acid catalysts for reactions of carbonyl compounds form specific intermediates that are not produced naturally, such as osmate esters in osmium tetroxide-catalyzed dihydroxylation of alkenes, or cause lysis of reagents to reactive forms, such as atomic hydrogen in catalytic hydrogenation.

Kinetically, catalytic reactions behave like typical chemical reactions, i.e. the reaction rate depends on the frequency of contact of the reactants in the rate-determining step. Usually, the catalyst participates in this slow step, and rates are limited by amount of catalyst. In heterogeneous catalysis, the diffusion of reagents to the surface and diffusion of products from the surface can be rate determining. Analogous events associated with substrate binding and product dissociation apply to homogeneous catalysts.

Although catalysts are not consumed by the reaction itself, they may be inhibited, deactivated or destroyed by secondary processes. In heterogeneous catalysis, typical secondary processes include coking where the catalyst becomes covered by polymeric side products. Additionally, heterogeneous catalysts can dissolve into the solution in a solid-liquid system or evaporate in a solid-gas system.


In a general sense, anything that increases the rate of a process is a "catalyst", a term derived from Greek καταλύειν, meaning "to annul," or "to untie," or "to pick up." The phrase catalysed processes was coined by Jöns Jakob Berzelius in 1836 to describe reactions that are accelerated by substances that remain unchanged after the reaction. Other early chemists involved in catalysis were Alexander Mitscherlich who referred to contact processes and Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner who spoke of contact action and whose lighter based on hydrogen and a platinum sponge became a huge commercial success in the 1820s. Humphry Davy discovered the use of platinum in catalysis. In the 1880s, Wilhelm Ostwald at Leipzig University started a systematic investigation into reactions that were catalyzed by the presence of acids and bases, and found that chemical reactions occur at finite rates and that these rates can be used to determine the strengths of acids and bases. For this work, Ostwald was awarded the 1909 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.


In those suns which are encircuited in the space-energy channels, solar energy is liberated by various complex nuclear-reaction chains, the most common of which is the hydrogen-carbon-helium reaction. In this metamorphosis, carbon acts as an energy catalyst since it is in no way actually changed by this process of converting hydrogen into helium. Under certain conditions of high temperature the hydrogen penetrates the carbon nuclei. Since the carbon cannot hold more than four such protons, when this saturation state is attained, it begins to emit protons as fast as new ones arrive. In this reaction the ingoing hydrogen particles come forth as a helium atom. (41:8.1)

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