Nobel Prize-winning physical chemist dies in Brussels at age 86

AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate and founder of The University of Texas at Austin’s Ilya Prigogine Center, died today (May 28) at the Hospital Erasme in Brussels, Belgium.

Dr. Ilya Prigogine
Dr. Ilya Prigogine

Prigogine, 86, was a leader in the field of nonlinear chemistry whose research helped create a greater understanding of the role of time in biology and the physical sciences. In particular, he contributed significantly to scientists’ ability to analyze dynamical processes in complex systems.

Prigogine greatly enhanced the understanding of irreversible processes, particularly in systems that are far from equilibrium. Prigogine also was the first to apply thermodynamics to the study of irreversible processes in living and inanimate systems.

He also developed the concept of dissipative structures to describe open systems, in which an exchange of matter and energy occurs between a system and its environment. Prigogine received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977 for his dissipative structure research and for his contributions to nonequilibrium thermodynamics.

A recipient of 53 honorary degrees, he was an author on 20 books and nearly 1,000 research articles. He also received numerous international awards, including: the Golden Medal of the Swante Arrhenius, Swedish Academy, Rumford Gold Medal, Royal Society of London, Descartes Medal, Paris; Commander of the Legion of Honor, France: Imperial Order of the Rising Sun, Japan; and the Medal of the President of the Italian Senate. In addition, Prigogine was awarded the title of viscount by the king of Belgium in 1989.

Born in Moscow on Jan. 25, 1917, Prigogine obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium. He came to The University of Texas at Austin in 1967 as a professor of physics and chemical engineering. He became the Regental Professor in 1977 and the Ashbel Smith Professor in 1984.

Upon his arrival in Austin, he started the Ilya Prigogine Center for Studies in Statistical Mechanics and Complex Systems, then called the Center for Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics. It is one of five Ilya Prigogine research centers in the world.

Prigogine was directing the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry in Brussels, Belgium, at the time of his death. He lived there when he was not active at The University of Texas at Austin. He is survived by his wife, Marina Prokopowicz, and sons, Yves and Pascal Prigogine.

For more information contact: Barbra Rodriguez, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675.