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 Ilya Prigogine

Born:   25 January 1917
Deceased:   28 May 2003

famous chemist, laureate of the Nobel Prize


Ilya Prigogine, Russian-born Belgian chemist, was born in Moscow on the eve of the Russian revolution to the family of a chemist and a musician. Ilya played piano since childhood, learning to read music before books. In 1921 Prigogine family moved to Europe first, they lived in Lithuania and Germany, and in 1929 settled in Belgium. At that time Ilya Prigogine dreamt of a piano player career.

Prigogine got his primary and secondary education in schools of Germany and Belgium, and then continued studying chemistry in Free University of Brussels, thermodynamics being his favorite subject. Receiving the bachelor of natural sciences degree in 1943, Prigogine wrote a dissertation of importance of time and transformation in thermodynamic systems and became a PhD two years later. In 1947 Prigogine got the position of physical chemistry professor in the same university, and in 1962 headed Solvay International Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Brussels.

For Prigogine, most attractive problem in thermodynamics was non-equilibrium specifically open systems, in which either matter, or energy, or both exchange with environment in reactions. In this case, amount of matter, amount of energy, or both increase or decrease in time. In order to explain behaviour of systems, which were far from equilibrium, Prigogine suggested a theory of dissipative structures. Given that non-equilibrium can be a source of order, Prigogine expressed dissipative structures in terms of a mathematical model with time-dependent non-linear functions, which described ability of systems to exchange matter and energy with the environment and restabilize themselves spontaneously.

Soon scientists understood an obvious fact human society was a good example of dissipative and non-dissipative structures, like natural environment was. In 1952 English mathematician Alan Turing suggested that thermodynamic instabilities, similar to that described by Ilya Prigogine, were characteristic features of self-organizing systems. In 1960s and 1970s Prigogine expanded his own theory of dissipative structures described formation and development of embryos. Critical bifurcation points of his mathematical model correlate with a point, in which a biological system in chaos becomes sequential and stabilized. Prigogine suggested that his theories and mathematical models pf time-dependent systems were applicable to evolution and social schemes, transport characteristics and politics in natural resources exploitation, as well as to population growth, meteorology and astronomy.

In 1967 Ilya Prigogine founded the Centre of Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics in Austin, Texas, and since that time he worked in Austin and in Brussels simultaneously.

In 1977 Ilya Prigogine was awarded Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, particularly the theory of dissipative structures. Ilya was famous for his elegant experiments, and that is why he is deservedly called the poet of thermodynamics. In 1961 Ilya Prigogine married Marina Prokopovich and had two sons. Among his colleagues, Prigogine was known as a man with suave manners and an outstanding scientist with widest range of interests: he was fond of literature and archeology, played the piano and listened to music.

The outstanding researcher was a laureate of many prestigious scientific awards and was full member of several academies of science.


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