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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

Is the normal force always 0
Mpilo Reply
define the term rate of reaction in word
David Reply
I think it a chemical process in which substance act mutually on each other.
how many bones are in the human body?
what is wave lengh
mama Reply
is the de broglie wavelength of the particle
calcium and magnesium, which one can displace aluminum from its compound?
Markia Reply
how is aluminum ion formed?
molecules with the same molecular formula but different chain
Malaza Reply
what will be the answer
chain isomer
what does the newton's law says?
there are 3 newtons laws which are newton's law of universal gravitation, law of cooling, law of motion
Did the feather or leaf hit the ground first?
Shaloom Reply
2 to 30 minut long distance race 20 km what's the avarage speed for the race
Jamilla Reply
what is meaning of covalent bonds
Lungani Reply
bonds that exists between non metal atoms. each atom contribute electron(s) which will form a bond joining the two atoms. electrons in the bond now belongs to both atoms
how do we name haloalkanes
Thobeka Reply
how do we name haloalkanes
what are examples of haloalkanes
haloalkanes are compounds that consist of the halogen group chlorine bromine flourine and so on like 2-bromobutan
give an example of calculating work
Nwabisa Reply
what is chain Isomer?
Christian Reply
chain isomer ar compounds with the same molecular formular but different chain length
Where does the functional group of ketone in carbons belong
Keletso Reply
how can I find the structural formulae and IUPAC names of hexane?
Matshidiso Reply
@Matshidiso identify your compound which is an alkane..the general formula for alkane is CnH2n+2... hex-6 substitute n with 6 implying that you'll have 6 carbons and 14 Hydrogens then you can draw your structural formula *NB* every carbon has to have 4 bonds
what are disadvantages of primary cells and advantage of secondary cells?
Thabang Reply

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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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