Field of Science

Weird Words of Science 12: A need for speed

The nectar busily gathered by the bees outside my window has a high sucrose content. The bees add the enzyme invertase to the nectar to catalyze the inversion of the sucrose to glucose and fructose that are the major sugars in honey. Humans can speed up the same reaction by heating the syrup or by adding a touch of acid.

Both enzyme and catalysis are lofty words lifted by scientists in the 19th century to serve more prosaic ends.

Enzyme's first meaning in the bread used for the Eucharist in the Greek Orthodox tradition. It means "leavened". It's not such a stretch to borrow the word to describe stuff that encouraged cellular reactions to proceed, what had been called the ferment.

Catalysis was originally used to describe the collapse of a nation, its origins can be traced to the mid 17th century. It comes from the Greek "to loosen". In the 19th century, Berzelius suborned the term to describe the process by which chemical reactions are facilitated. Catalysts participate in a reaction, but are in the end are restored to their original form, like molecular Phoenixes. Why did Berzelius settle on this term? Did he hope to imply that the constraints which bound the reaction to a slow pace are loosened by a catalyst?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS