What Does a Catalyst Do in a Chemical Reaction?

••• Rawpixel/iStock/GettyImages

When you use laundry detergent to get rid of a stain on a shirt, you are watching a catalyst in action during a chemical reaction. Detergents have enzymes, which are catalysts that break up dirt and other stains on clothing. Although they help clean people’s favorite outfits, they are not the only examples of powerful catalysts.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A catalyst accelerates a chemical reaction. The catalyst remains unchanged after the reaction.

The Effect of a Catalyst on a Chemical Reaction

A catalyst affects a chemical reaction by accelerating it. It also offers an alternative way for the reaction to happen that lowers the amount of energy needed. Reactions require activation energy to start, and catalysts can help. However, catalysts survive the reactions unchanged.

Two Ways Catalysts Affect a Chemical Reaction

The two main ways catalysts affect chemical reactions are by creating a way to lower activation energy or by changing how the reaction happens. They can lower the energy of the transition state, so the overall activation energy needed for the reaction decreases, or they can alter the mechanisms of a reaction and thus change the transition state.

Catalysts do their jobs in different ways. One option is for these substances to allow the reactant molecules to break their bonds and form new ones with the catalysts. These bonds are not permanent, so the catalysts can survive the reactions unchanged. Another way catalysts work is by changing the configuration of the reactants and weakening their bonds.

Examples of Catalysts in Chemical Reactions

Two types of catalysts are homogeneous and heterogeneous. Homogeneous catalysts exist in the same phase as the reactants in the chemical reaction. For example, if the reactants are gases, then the catalyst is also a gas. Heterogeneous catalysts are in a different phase than the reactants. For example, the reactants may be solid, but the catalyst is a liquid.

Enzymes are a typical example of a biological catalyst. These proteins can fold in different ways to help reactions by binding reactants. Catalysts can help hydrolyze sucrose or table sugar. Invertase is an enzyme that helps break down sucrose: sucrose + H2O yields glucose + fructose.

Catalytic converters in cars are another common example of how catalysts work. The catalysts inside the converters tend to be precious metals such as platinum or rhodium. Gases enter the converter and come into contact with the catalysts. Then, harmful pollutants react with the metals and become less toxic.

Related Articles

Four Ways to Speed Up a Chemical Reaction
What Factors Influence the Rate of a Chemical Reaction?
Why Are Transition Metals Good Catalysts?
Five Factors That Affect Reaction Rates
What Happens to Chemical Bonds During Chemical Reactions
What is a Nonvolatile Solute?
What Is the Difference Between Reactants & Products...
Name One Way to Decrease the Rate of Solvation
Role of Coenzymes
What Kinds of Chemicals Will Speed up the Action of...
How Would the Lack of a Cofactor for an Enzyme Affect...
Different Types of Catalysts
What are Two Ways That Enzymes Become Less Effective?
What are Spectator Ions?
Different Types of Enzymes
Examples of Single Replacement Reactions
What Is Activation Energy?
What Happens to Enzyme Activity if the pH Is Unfavorable?
What Is Nadph in Photosynthesis?

Dont Go!

We Have More Great Sciencing Articles!