A simple chemical reaction mechanism proposed as a possible mechanism of oscillating reactions. The process involves a conversion of a reactant R into a product P. The reactant flows into the reaction chamber at a constant rate and the product is removed at a constant rate, i.e. the reaction is in a steady state (but not in chemical equilibrium). The mechanism involves three steps:R+X → 2XX+Y → 2YY → PThe first two steps involve autocatalysis: the first step is catalysed by the reactant X and the second by the reactant Y. The kinetics of such a reaction can be calculated numerically, showing that the concentrations of both X and Y increase and decrease periodically with time. This results from the autocatalytic action. Initially, the concentration of X is small, but, as it increases, there is a rapid increase in the rate of the first reaction because of the autocatalytic action of X. As the concentration of X builds up, the rate of the second reaction also increases. Initially, the concentration of Y is low but there is a sudden surge in the rate of step 2, resulting from the autocatalytic action of Y. This lowers the concentration of X and slows down step 1, so the concentration of X falls. Less X is now available for the second step and the concentration of Y also starts to fall. With this fall in the amount of Y, less X is removed, and the first reaction again begins to increase. These processes are repeated, leading to repeated rises and falls in the concentrations of both X and Y. The cycles are not in phase, peaks in the concentration of Y occurring later than peaks in X.
R+X → 2XX+Y → 2YY → P
In fact, known oscillating chemical reactions have different mechanisms to the above, but the scheme illustrates how oscillation may occur. This type of process is found in fields other than chemistry; they were investigated by the Italian mathematician Vito Volterra (1860–1940) in models of biological systems (e.g. predator-prey relationships).