Chemistry. a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.
something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.
a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.

1900–05; cataly(sis) + (-i)st

self-catalyst, noun
semicatalyst, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
catalyst (ˈkætəlɪst)
1.  Compare inhibitor a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself suffering any permanent chemical change
2.  a person or thing that causes a change

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

1902, formed in Eng. (on analogy of analyst) from Gk. kata "down" + -lysis "a loosening" (comb. form); see lose.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

catalyst cat·a·lyst (kāt'l-ĭst)
A substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process.

cat'a·lyt'ic (kāt'l-ĭt'ĭk) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
catalyst   (kāt'l-ĭst)  Pronunciation Key 
A substance that starts or speeds up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change itself. The enzymes in saliva, for example, are catalysts in digestion.

catalytic adjective (kāt'l-ĭt'ĭk)
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary
catalyst [(kat-uh-list)]

In chemistry, a substance that causes a chemical reaction to occur but is not itself involved in the reaction.

Note: The term catalyst is often used to refer to the prime agent of any change: “She was the catalyst for the reorganization.”
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
Green is going to be the next big catalyst for economies across the globe.
By connecting rather than alienating in a public setting, it is a great
  catalyst for collaboration.
Cells need zinc as a catalyst in their protective processes, so if you supply
  them with zinc, it helps them work more efficiently.
All it takes is a catalyst of nickel or ruthenium, and the reaction occurs
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