/kat"l ist/, n.
1. Chem. a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
2. something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
3. a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.
4. a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.
[1900-05; CATALY(SIS) + (-I)ST]

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Any substance of which a small proportion notably affects the reaction rate of a chemical reaction without itself being changed or consumed (see catalysis).

One molecule may transform several million reactant molecules a minute. Catalysts may be gaseous, liquid, or solid; they may be inorganic compounds, organic compounds, or complex combinations. They tend to be highly specific, reacting with only one substance or a small set of substances. Substances that reduce the effectiveness of catalysts by altering them or blocking reactants' access to them are called catalyst inhibitors or catalyst poisons. Catalysts are essential to virtually all industrial chemical reactions, especially in petroleum refining and synthetic organic chemical manufacturing. Most solid catalysts are transition elements (metals) or their oxides in finely divided or porous form. In a car's catalytic converter, the platinum catalyst converts unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen compounds to products less harmful to the environment. Water, especially saltwater, catalyzes oxidation (see oxidation-reduction) and corrosion. Enzymes are among the most active and selective catalysts known.

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 in chemistry, any substance that increases the rate of a reaction without itself being consumed. Enzymes are naturally occurring catalysts responsible for many essential biochemical reactions.

      Most solid catalysts are metals or the oxides, sulfides, and halides of metallic elements and of the semimetallic elements boron, aluminum, and silicon. Gaseous and liquid catalysts are commonly used in their pure form or in combination with suitable carriers or solvents; solid catalysts are commonly dispersed in other substances known as catalyst supports.

      In general, catalytic action is a chemical reaction between the catalyst and a reactant, forming chemical intermediates that are able to react more readily with each other or with another reactant, to form the desired end product. During the reaction between the chemical intermediates and the reactants, the catalyst is regenerated. The modes of reactions between the catalysts and the reactants vary widely and in solid catalysts are often complex. Typical of these reactions are acid–base reactions, oxidation–reduction reactions, formation of coordination complexes, and formation of free radicals. With solid catalysts the reaction mechanism is strongly influenced by surface properties and electronic or crystal structures. Certain solid catalysts, called polyfunctional catalysts, are capable of more than one mode of interaction with the reactants; bifunctional catalysts are used extensively for reforming reactions in the petroleum industry.

       Catalytic processes and their catalystsCatalyzed reactions form the basis of many industrial chemical processes. Catalyst manufacture is itself a rapidly growing industrial process. Some typical catalytic processes with their corresponding catalysts are given in the Table (Catalytic processes and their catalysts).

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Universalium. 2010.