What Is Catalyst?

A catalyst can be defined as a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction. A catalyst can be synthetic, organic or simply a metal. The process through which a particular catalyst increases the rate of a particular reaction is called as catalysis.

Concept of catalysis
Actually, for occurrence of any process, an energy, which is called as activation energy is always required. For reactants of every reaction, it’s a necessity to achieve this activation energy, to get converted into the final products. This energy barrier of a reaction is called as activation energy barrier. For reactants alone, it is very tedious to achieve this barrier. But when a catalyst is present in a particular reaction it decreases the activation energy barrier. So, reaction occurs at a rate faster then before.
A catalyst speeds up a reaction by changing the specific structures of the reactant molecules; this alteration causes reactant molecules to collide with each other in order to release energy or product. For example- Under normal circumstances, hydrogen and oxygen don’t react with each other, but in the presence of a specific catalyst, they react with each other to produce water.

Importance of catalysts
It can be postulated from above facts that, without the help of catalysts chemical reactions can never occur or they may take several years to get completed. During a catalyzed chemical reaction, catalysts don’t show any significant change in their structures and compositions. Catalysts are not able to bring any changes to the nature of final product. Usually, a catalyst can be easily recovered after the reaction and can be reused for other reactions.

Negative catalysts
There are some negative catalysts also, which decreases the rate of a well- going reaction. These negative catalysts interfere with the normal functioning of usual catalysts of a particular reaction. Negative catalysts can also be termed as inhibitors. These negative catalysts have great uses in medical science. They help in slowing down of various detrimental biochemical reactions.

Enzymes Vs catalysts

Enzymes should not be confused with catalysts. Enzyme is also a class of catalysts, but they catalyze only biochemical reactions, so they are also termed as biochemical enzymes. Enzymes are actually protein molecules which are present in living systems, but they don’t loose their ability of catalysis, when extracted out from living systems. Because of this exclusive feature, they have great uses in fermentation industry. Enzymes are much more specific then catalysts and for proper working they depend upon strict optimum conditions.

Importance of enzymes
In living systems, enzymes have crucial role to play. Life will be impossible without enzymes. For example- There is an enzyme (amylase), present in human saliva. This enzyme participates in digestion of the food, without the presence of this enzyme digestion process will take billions of years to digest a single meal.
Catalysts are also very important in manufacturing industry as well as in laboratory. One very important type of catalyst is “catalytic converter”; this catalyst participates in preventing the automobile emissions, by doing so this catalyst reduces the consumption of fuel. In fact, various fertilizers are also catalysts, which speed up the growth of the plant.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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