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Prigogine, Ilya

equilibrium living systems thermodynamics

[prigo gee nay] (1917– ) Russian–Belgian theoretical chemist: developed irreversible thermodynamics.

Living in Belgium from age 12, Prigogine was educated in Brussels and was a professor there from 1951; he also had posts in the USA.

Classical thermodynamics is concerned with reversible processes and, in chemistry, with equilibrium states. In fact such situations are rare in the real world; eg the Earth’s atmosphere receives energy continuously from the Sun and living cells are also not in equilibrium with their surroundings. Inanimate systems tend in general to a state of increasing disorder (ie their entropy increases) whereas living systems achieve an organized and ordered state, from relatively disorganized materials. Prigogine developed mathematical models of these non-equilibrium systems and was able to show in general terms how such dissipative structures (as he named them) are created and sustained. His ideas have application in studies on the origin of life and its evolution, and on ecosystems in general. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1977.

Pringsheim, Nathanael [next] [back] Priestley, Joseph -  , A STRANGE BIOCHEMICAL: NITRIC OXIDE

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