Viscount Ilya Prigogine 1917-2003
May 30, 2003
Ilya Prigogine, the winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on non-equilibrium thermodynamics, has died aged 86 in Brussels. At the time of his death, Prigogine was director of the International Solvay Institute for Physics and Chemistry in Brussels – a post he has held since 1959. He was also professor of physics and chemical engineering at the University of Texas where he founded the Centre for Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics. This centre was later named after him.
Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow in 1917. He moved to Germany with his family in 1921, and then to Belgium eight years later. He graduated with a PhD in chemistry from the Université Libre in Brussels in 1941 and remained there to continue with his research in thermodynamics.
Prigogine is best known for extending the second law of thermodynamics to systems that are far from equilibrium, and demonstrating that new forms of ordered structures could exist under such conditions. Prigogine called these ‘dissipative structures’ because they cannot exist independently of their environment. According to the second law of thermodynamics, ordered systems disintegrate into disordered ones. However, Prigogine showed that the formation of dissipative structures allows order to be created from disorder in non-equilibrium systems. These structures have since been used to describe phenomena such as the growth of cities and the physics of car traffic.
Prigogine received many awards and prizes during his life, including the Medaille d’Or (France) and the Imperial Order of the Rising Sun (Japan). He wrote almost a thousand research articles and many books, which include “Order out of Chaos” (1989) and “The End of Certainty” (1997).
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Belle Dumé is Science Writer at PhysicsWeb