Very substantial advances have recently been made in the design and construction of solid catalysts and in elucidating both their mode of operation and the factors that determine their selectivity and longevity. This Perspective explains how and why such progress has been made. One important factor, the deployment of single-site heterogeneous and enzymatic catalysts, used either alone or in conjunction with other strategies, including metabolic engineering, enables a multitude of new products (for example, environmentally clean jet fuel) to be readily manufactured. In a practical sense SSHCs enable the advantages of homogeneous and to a lesser degree enzymatic catalysts to be united with those of heterogeneous ones. With the aid of the vastly increasing families of nanoporous solids, desired catalytically active sites may be engineered in atomic detail on their inner, accessible surfaces, thereby opening up new possibilities in synthetic organic chemistry - as in the smooth formation of C-C and C[double bond, length as m-dash]N bonds in a number of intermolecular reactions - as well as in photocatalysts and in fluidized catalytic cracking of hydrocarbons.