Childhood & Early Life
Ilya Romanovich Prigogine was born on 25 January 1917, in Moscow, Russian Empire, to Roman (Ruvim Abramovich) Prigogine, a chemical engineer, and his wife Yulia Vikhman, a pianist. He had one brother.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 started when he was a small baby. His family grew exceedingly critical of the new Soviet system and left Russia in 1921. They first went to Germany and then moved to Belgium in 1929.
As a young boy, Prigogine was interested in music, history and archaeology. However, he chose science for his formal education and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He received a doctorate in 1941.
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Ilya Prigogine accepted the position of a professor at his alma mater, Université Libre de Bruxelles, in 1950. Over the course of his successful academic career he rose through the ranks quickly and was appointed director of the International Solvay Institute in Brussels in 1959.
In 1959, he also started teaching at the University of Texas at Austin in the United States; he would split his future academic career between the University of Texas and the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He was later made Regental Professor and Ashbel Smith Professor of Physics and Chemical Engineering at Texas.
He was affiliated with the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago from 1961 to 1966. In 1962, he became director of the International Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Solvay.
He co-founded the Center for Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, now the Center for Complex Quantum Systems, in Austin in 1967. Active in research from the post World War II period, he made many significant discoveries in the 1960s.
Working with his colleagues R. Balescu, R. Brout, F. Hénin and P. Résibois, he formulated non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and mathematical models that showed how chemical reactions could produce complex, changing patterns.
Prigogine’s work on the application of the second law of thermodynamics to complex systems, including living organisms, was especially significant. The law states that in any isolated physical system, order inevitably dissolves into decay. However, Prigogine was of the opinion that as long as systems receive energy and matter from an external source, nonlinear systems (or dissipative structures) can go through periods of instability and then self-organization.
His pioneering dissipative structure theory proved influential in a wide variety of fields, ranging from physical chemistry to biology. It also paved the way for the development of new disciplines of chaos theory and complexity theory. In addition, it led to philosophical inquiries into the formation of complexity on biological entities.
In collaboration with Robert Herman, he developed the basis of the two fluid model, a macroscopic traffic flow model to represent traffic in a town/city or metropolitan area, analogous to the two fluid model in classical statistical mechanics.
During the later years of his career, he focused upon the fundamental role of Indeterminism in nonlinear systems on both the classical and quantum level. In collaboration with his colleagues, he proposed a Liouville space extension of quantum mechanics.
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Ilya Prigogine wrote or was co-author of 20 books—including several with Isabelle Stengers—and almost 1,000 research articles. One of his best known books is ‘La Fin des certitudes’ (1996), co-authored by Isabelle Stengers and published in English in 1997 as ‘The End of Certainty: time, chaos, and the new laws of nature.’
In 1997. he also became a co-founder of the International Commission on Distance Education (CODE), a worldwide accreditation agency.
Awards & Achievements
In 1955 he won the Francqui Prize for Exact Sciences.
He received the Rumford Medal in 1976 for his study in irreversible thermodynamics.
Ilya Prigogine was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1977 "for his contributions to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, particularly the theory of dissipative structures".
In 1989, he was awarded the title of Viscount in the Belgian nobility by the King of the Belgians.
Personal Life & Legacy
Ilya Prigogine’s first marriage was to Belgian poet, Hélène Jofé, with whom he had a son. The marriage ended in divorce.
He married Polish-born chemist, Maria Prokopowicz, in 1961. This union also produced a son.
He died on 28 May 2003, at the age of 86.