This unit discusses in detail the role of catalysts to lower the activation energy of reactions. The term catalyst appears in nonscientific discussions to refer to something that provokes or speeds significant change or action. Consider this example from the 2006 Associated Press article “Chernobyl cover-up a catalyst for glasnost”:
“For the Soviet Union, Chernobyl was a catalyst that forced the government into an unprecedented show of openness that paved the way for reforms leading to the Soviet collapse.”
Discuss how this scientific term has made its way into common usage. Does the term catalyst carry the same meaning in regular usage? How is it used differently in a scientific context compared to a nonscientific context?