A catalyst is a compound that increases the rate at which a reaction comes to equilibrium without itself being consumed in the reaction, so that a small amount of catalyst can affect the reaction of many thousands of molecules of substrate. Although a catalyst increases the rate at which a reaction comes to equilibrium, it does not affect the position of the equilibrium. Catalysts affect the rate at which equilibrium is achieved in three main ways:
- By providing a surface on which the molecules that are to undergo reaction can come together in higher concentration than would be possible in free solution, thus increasing the probability of them colliding and reacting. Binding also aligns the substrates in the correct orientation to undergo reaction.
- By providing a microenvironment for the reactants that is different from the solution as a whole.
- By participating in the reaction by withdrawing electrons from, or donating electrons to, covalent bonds. This enhances the breaking of bonds that is the prerequisite for chemical reaction and lowers the activation energy of the reaction.
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