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Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow on 25 January 1917. His “middle-class” parents had to flee their homeland four years after the Communist Revolution. The family first lived in Germany and finally settled in Belgium in 1929. As a son of a chemical engineer, Ilya Prigongine studied at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and obtained his doctorate in Physical Chemistry in 1941. In 1947 he was appointed professor, and then two years later acquired Belgian nationality. In 1962 he became director of the world-renowned International Solvay Institute of Physics and Chemistry. Furthermore, he was made temporary director of the Center for Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics at the University of Texas at Austin (USA).

A member since 1953, he was elected President of the Académie Royale de Belgique and was appointed to various international academies of sciences. Prigogine was especially devoted to the study of chemical processes that are “irreversible” according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He found the early research of the German physicist Rudolf Clausius in Bonn on the unidirectional flow of “entropy” (a statistical state variable) especially interesting. Already 100 years ago, these theories opposed that dictated by classical thermodynamics, which can only describe such processes in the state of equilibrium. However, most processes occurring in nature are far from this – cooking and baking (say, of eggs) as well as the processes in electrical thermal and Peltier elements. The Norwegian Lars Onsager (Nobel Prize 1968) developed the first methods for the theoretical treatment of such irreversible processes, but their validity was only proven in the immediate surroundings of equilibrium.

Prigogine was the first to succeed in overcoming these restrictions – with his essay on the “Theory of Dissipative Structures”. Meant - are new, ordered structures far from equilibrium that – as opposed to crystals, for example – only exist embedded in the environment. This dynamic theory is of great importance for the understanding of life: its origin – the evolution (first chemical, then biological) – evolves out of a chain of instabilities which continually break down and are replaced by new ones – through internal intensification of fluctuations. For this Prigogine received the Nobel Prize in 1977.

Ilya Prigogine passed away on 28 May 2003, at the age of 86.