Prigogine, Ilya

▪ 2004

      Russian-born Belgian physical chemist (b. Jan. 25, 1917, Moscow, Russia—d. May 28, 2003, Brussels, Belg.), was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1977 for contributions to the understanding of nonequilibrium thermodynamics. In particular, he helped explain how complex systems, including living organisms, could arise spontaneously from less-ordered states and maintain themselves in apparent defiance of the classical laws of physics. As a child, Prigogine moved with his family to Lithuania, Germany, and finally to Belgium. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Free University in Brussels in 1941. He conducted research at the university and accepted a professorship there in 1947. Two years later he received Belgian citizenship. Prigogine became director of the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry in Brussels in 1962 and, from 1967, also served as director of the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas at Austin. The centre was later renamed the Ilya Prigogine Center for Studies in Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems in his honour. Much of Prigogine's work dealt with the application of the second law of thermodynamics to complex systems. He theorized that the second law—which states that physical systems tend to dissolve into a state of disorder (a process known as entropy)—might be broken in certain circumstances. He argued that as long as systems receive energy from an external source—the Sun, for example—it is possible for them to evolve into more complex systems. Prigogine described how such systems, or “dissipative structures,” can go through periods of instability and then suddenly evolve and become more ordered. His work was influential in a wide variety of fields, from physical chemistry to biology, and he was considered the “grandfather” of the new discipline of chaos theory. He wrote or co-wrote some 20 books and nearly 1,000 scholarly articles. King Baudouin I of Belgium made Prigogine a viscount in 1989.

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▪ Russian-Belgian physical chemist
born Jan. 25, 1917, Moscow, Russia
died May 28, 2003, Brussels, Belg.
 Russian-born Belgian physical chemist who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1977 for contributions to nonequilibrium thermodynamics.

      Prigogine was taken to Belgium as a child. He received a doctorate in 1941 at the Free University in Brussels, where he accepted the position of professor in 1947. In 1962 he became director of the International Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Solvay, Belg. He also served as director of the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas in Austin from 1967 until his death.

      Prigogine's work dealt with the application of the second law of thermodynamics (thermodynamics) to complex systems, including living organisms. The second law states that physical systems tend to slide spontaneously and irreversibly toward a state of disorder (a process driven by an increase in entropy); it does not, however, explain how complex systems could have arisen spontaneously from less-ordered states and have maintained themselves in defiance of the tendency toward maximum entropy. Prigogine argued that as long as systems receive energy and matter from an external source, nonlinear systems (or dissipative structures, as he called them) can go through periods of instability and then self-organization, resulting in more-complex systems whose characteristics cannot be predicted except as statistical probabilities. Prigogine's work was influential in a wide variety of fields, from physical chemistry to biology, and was fundamental to the new disciplines of chaos (chaos theory) theory and complexity theory.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Prigogine,Ilya — Pri·go·gine (prĭ gôʹzhən, gô zhēnʹ), Ilya. Born 1917. Russian born Belgian chemist. He won a 1977 Nobel Prize for his contributions to nonequilibrium thermodynamics. * * * …   Universalium

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