Scientists Say: Catalyst | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Catalyst

This is a material that brings chemical reactions up to speed
Jun 26, 2017 — 6:50 am EST

Scientists might add a catalyst to a chemical mix make a reaction go faster.


Catalyst (noun, “CAT-ah-list”)

This is a material that speeds up a chemical reaction. A catalyst can help a chemical reaction that would take hours or even years on its own happen in just a few seconds. In living things, molecules called enzymes can serve as catalysts. Catalysts are also used in manufacturing. And they can be found in some everyday things, such as cars and trucks.

In a sentence

Cars use platinum as a catalyst to help remove pollutants from exhaust.

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Power Words

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chemical     A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.

chemical reaction     A process that involves the rearrangement of the molecules or structure of a substance, as opposed to a change in physical form (as from a solid to a gas).

enzymes     Molecules made by living things to speed up chemical reactions.

exhaust     (in engineering) The gases and fine particles emitted — often at high speed and/or pressure — by combustion (burning) or by the heating of air. Exhaust gases are usually a form of waste.

molecule     An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

platinum     A naturally occurring silver-white metallic element that remains stable (does not corrode) in air. It is used in jewelry, electronics, chemical processing and some dental crowns.

pollutant     A substance that taints something — such as the air, water, our bodies or products. Some pollutants are chemicals, such as pesticides. Others may be radiation, including excess heat or light. Even weeds and other invasive species can be considered a type of biological pollution.