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The distribution of particle kinetic energies at a fixed temperature

A catalyst functions slightly differently. The function of a catalyst is to lower the activation energy so that more particles now have enough energy to react. The catalyst itself is not changed during the reaction, but simply provides an alternative pathway for the reaction, so that it needs less energy. Some metals e.g. platinum, copper and iron can act as catalysts in certain reactions. In our own human bodies, enzymes are catalysts that help to speed up biological reactions. Catalysts generally react with one or more of the reactants to form a chemical intermediate which then reacts to form the final product. The chemical intermediate is sometimes called the activated complex .

The following is an example of how a reaction that involves a catalyst might proceed. C represents the catalyst, A and B are reactants and D is the product of the reaction of A and B.

Step 1: A + C AC

Step 2: B + AC ABC

Step 3: ABC CD

Step 4: CD C + D

In the above, ABC represents the intermediate chemical. Although the catalyst (C) is consumed by reaction 1, it is later produced again by reaction 4, so that the overall reaction is as follows:

A + B + C D + C

You can see from this that the catalyst is released at the end of the reaction, completely unchanged.


A catalyst speeds up a chemical reaction, without being altered in any way. It increases the reaction rate by lowering the activation energy for a reaction.

Energy diagrams are useful to illustrate the effect of a catalyst on reaction rates. Catalysts decrease the activation energy required for a reaction to proceed (shown by the smaller 'hump' on the energy diagram in [link] ), and therefore increase the reaction rate.

The effect of a catalyst on the activation energy of a reaction

Experiment : catalysts and reaction rates


To determine the effect of a catalyst on the rate of a reaction


Zinc granules, 0.1 M hydrochloric acid, copper pieces, one test tube and a glass beaker.


  1. Place a few of the zinc granules in the test tube.
  2. Measure the mass of a few pieces of copper and keep them separate from the rest of the copper.
  3. Add about 20 cm 3 of HCl to the test tube. You will see that a gas is released. Take note of how quickly or slowly this gas is released. Write a balanced equation for the chemical reaction that takes place.
  4. Now add the copper pieces to the same test tube. What happens to the rate at which the gas is produced?
  5. Carefully remove the copper pieces from the test tube (do not get HCl on your hands), rinse them in water and alcohol and then weigh them again. Has the mass of the copper changed since the start of the experiment?


During the reaction, the gas that is released is hydrogen. The rate at which the hydrogen is produced increases when the copper pieces (the catalyst) are added. The mass of the copper does not change during the reaction.


The copper acts as a catalyst during the reaction. It speeds up the rate of the reaction, but is not changed in any way itself.

Reaction rates

  1. For each of the following, say whether the statement is true or false . If it is false, re-write the statement correctly.
    1. A catalyst increases the energy of reactant molecules so that a chemical reaction can take place.
    2. Increasing the temperature of a reaction has the effect of increasing the number of reactant particles that have more energy that the activation energy.
    3. A catalyst does not become part of the final product in a chemical reaction.
  2. 5 g of zinc granules are added to 400 cm 3 of 0.5 mol.dm - 3 hydrochloric acid. To investigate the rate of the reaction, the change in the mass of the flask containing the zinc and the acid was measured by placing the flask on a direct reading balance. The reading on the balance shows that there is a decrease in mass during the reaction. The reaction which takes place is given by the following equation: Z n ( s ) + 2 H C l ( a q ) Z n C l 2 ( a q ) + H 2 ( g )
    1. Why is there a decrease in mass during the reaction?
    2. The experiment is repeated, this time using 5 g of powdered zinc instead of granulated zinc. How will this influence the rate of the reaction?
    3. The experiment is repeated once more, this time using 5 g of granulated zinc and 600 cm 3 of 0.5 mol.dm - 3 hydrochloric acid. How does the rate of this reaction compare to the original reaction rate?
    4. What effect would a catalyst have on the rate of this reaction?
    (IEB Paper 2 2003)
  3. Enzymes are catalysts. Conduct your own research to find the names of common enzymes in the human body and which chemical reactions they play a role in.
  4. 5 g of calcium carbonate powder reacts with 20 cm 3 of a 0.1 mol.dm - 3 solution of hydrochloric acid. The gas that is produced at a temperature of 25 c i r c C is collected in a gas syringe.
    1. Write a balanced chemical equation for this reaction.
    2. The rate of the reaction is determined by measuring the volume of gas thas is produced in the first minute of the reaction. How would the rate of the reaction be affected if:
      1. a lump of calcium carbonate of the same mass is used
      2. 40 cm 3 of 0.1 mol.dm - 3 hydrochloric acid is used

Questions & Answers

what does the word emitted mean?
Mwinga Reply
to be ejected or released
Ok thanks
what are the hooke laws
Tyriek Reply
what do really asked in exam
Leiyo Reply
hi please help me how to balance redox reactions?
Brian Reply
Which equation do u wanna balance
i tried to write it but my phone just can't write it Cr2 O72-(aq) + H2S (aq) Cr3 (aq) + S(s)
show is the equation
hello. what is the difference between a primary, secondary and tertiary alcohol
Thokozani Reply
primary the C=bonded to 1 Carbon atom.... secondary=bonded to 2 carbon atoms tertiary=bonded to 3 carbon atoms
I hope you're answered
thanks Christina
My pleasure
Thank you Christina. This is very helpful 😀👍👍💯
Anytime Thokozani
How to calculate pH?
thank you guys i didn't know about the primary, secondary and tertiary alcohols
thank you Christina
Hey guys which topic does AC nd DC generator falls
thank you
can somebody help me with functional isomers
Baningi Reply
function isomer has the same molecular formula but different functional group
what's momentum
Luvelo Reply
the product of an objects mass times velocity. it is mainly prevalent in collisions.
in order to produce an interference pattern, the waves used must be what?
Methane contains C and H. This compound is
Juan Reply
ketones's functional group
Moloi Reply
Why does the carboxyl group have acidc properties?
Evi Reply
carboxylic acids
Besides improving appearance what is another reason why medal is electro plated
Elizabeth Reply
it is made of metal
what is different between Dependent variable and independent variables
difference between A.c and D.c
AC has slip rings DC has split rings commutator
to avoid rust and to improve strength and conductivity
the variable whose value doesn't depend on other is known as independent variable ex time
are UV rays dangerous?
Khathutshelo Reply
what's this?
if there is extensive exposure, it can lead to skin cancer
yes depend upon their intensity
i hv a problem with this chapter because i also have problem with Newton's laws of motion
Kearabetswe Reply
I have a problem with calculation in Newton's law of motion
me also VuyokAzi
what's the question
Which area in particular?
just get the hang if free body diagrams,know the directions.
I know how to draw free diagram I have a problem with calculation in second law
what is the wave model of atom ?
Trazy Reply
guys what is momentum
@Luvelo... Momentum is the product of an object's mass and its velocity.
the model based on wave nature of electron
Can you state the Doppler effect in words
Nombuyiselo Reply
State Coulomb's law in words
the magnitude of the electrostatic force exerted point on each other is directly proportional to the product on magnitude of charges and inversely proportional to the square distance between them
the change in frequency of the sound detected by a listener because sound source and listener have different velocity

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 12 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11244/1.2
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