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MARGINALIA

Long Live the Intermediate!

What’s in between in a reaction matters just as much as what sets it off

Roald Hoffmann

In the forthcoming U.S. presidential and congressional campaigns, I guarantee that we will hear, and not just once, the stock characterization of a candidate as “a catalyst for change.” You might think we’d weary of this phrase, but the part of our psyche where hope eternally resides will not let us do so. Note that this expression invokes catalysis, one of the few chemical concepts that enter common parlance. As agents of transformation and profit, catalysts capture the collective imagination. But there is an equally deserving alternative for our attention: the reaction intermediate.








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