catalyst

noun

cat·​a·​lyst ˈka-tə-ləst How to pronounce catalyst (audio)
1
: a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
2
: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action
That waterway became the catalyst of the area's industrialization.
He was the catalyst in the native uprising.

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Word History of Catalyst

Catalyst is a fairly recent addition to the English language, first appearing at the start of the 20th century with its chemistry meaning. It was formed from the word catalysis, another chemistry term which refers to a modification and especially an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction induced by material unchanged chemically at the end of the reaction. By the 1940s, the figurative sense of catalyst was in use for someone or something that quickly causes change or action.

Examples of catalyst in a Sentence

The bombing attack was the catalyst for war. She was proud to be a catalyst for reform in the government.
Recent Examples on the Web The other catalyst — a special dividend, which was also historically overdue — was announced late last year. Paulina Likos, CNBC, 11 July 2024 Heat, experts say, can elevate discomfort and aggression – a potential catalyst for violence at a time kids are out of school and warmer weather drives more people outdoors in a country with more guns than people. Fabiana Chaparro, CNN, 8 July 2024 This moment will be a catalyst to drive progress toward understanding diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, Fortune, 2 July 2024 The catalyst for that sudden, late-breaking burst of public interest was an image of the Martian surface taken by an orbiter as part of the NASA Viking 1 mission in 1976. Phil Plait, Scientific American, 28 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for catalyst 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catalyst.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

see catalysis

First Known Use

1902, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of catalyst was in 1902

Dictionary Entries Near catalyst

Cite this Entry

“Catalyst.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catalyst. Accessed 17 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

catalyst

noun
cat·​a·​lyst ˈkat-ᵊl-əst How to pronounce catalyst (audio)
1
: a substance that changes the rate of a chemical reaction but is itself unchanged at the end of the process
especially : such a substance that speeds up a reaction or enables it to proceed under milder conditions
2
: a person or event that quickly causes change or action
the scandal was a catalyst for reform

Medical Definition

catalyst

noun
cat·​a·​lyst ˈkat-ᵊl-əst How to pronounce catalyst (audio)
: a substance (as an enzyme) that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions (as at a lower temperature) than otherwise possible
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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