A substance that alters the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being changed chemically in the reaction. The catalyst can, however, undergo physical change; for example, large lumps of catalyst can, without loss in mass, be converted into a powder. Small amounts of catalyst are often sufficient to increase the rate of reaction considerably. A positive catalyst increases the rate of a reaction and
a negative catalyst reduces it. Homogeneous catalysts are those that act in the same phase as the reactants (i.e. in gaseous and liquid systems). For example, nitrogen (II) oxide gas will catalyze the reaction between sulfur(IV) oxide and oxygen in the gaseous phase. Heterogeneous catalysts act
in a different phase from the reactants. For example, finely divided nickel (a solid) will
catalyze the hydrogenation of oil (liquid). The function of a catalyst is to provide a new pathway for which the rate-determining step has a lower activation energy than in the uncatalyzed reaction. A catalyst does not change the products in an equilibrium reaction and their concentration is identical to that in the uncatalyzed reaction; i.e. the position of the equilibrium remains unchanged. The catalyst simply increases the rate at which equilibrium is attained. In autocatalysis, one of the products of the reaction itself acts as a catalyst. In this type of reaction the reaction rate increases with time to a maximum and finally slows down. For example, in the hydrolysis of ethyl ethanoate, the ethanoic acid produced catalyzes the reaction.