WIT Press

A brief tale on how chemical oscillations became popular: an interview with Anatol Zhabotinsky


Free (open access)


Volume 1 (2006), Issue 4



Page Range

323 - 326

Paper DOI



WIT Press


A. Zhabotinsky, F. Rossi


Nowadays everyone who deals with complexity, both in science and in humanistic disciplines, has heard about the ‘Belousov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction’. This reaction represents, without any doubt, one of the most cited examples of a self-organizing chemical system, and at present over 1,500 papers have been published on the BZ reaction. But it was not always so, and in this respect the BZ reaction represents a good (though maybe not the most important) example of how reluctant academia can be to recognize observations that do not seem to fit into existing theories.

The first observation of an oscillating chemical reaction in liquid phase was made in 1921 by Bray [1], who observed periodic variations in iodine concentrations during decomposition of hydrogen peroxide catalyzed by the iodate ion. The scientific community considered this behavior as contradicting the second law of thermodynamics and attributed the oscillations to unknown impurities. It was quite odd that scientists spent more time trying to explain why this reaction was supposed to be impossible than in seriously attempting to understand what was going on.

Despite the theoreticalwork of Prigogine about oscillations in far from equilibrium systems (1955), the myth that chemical oscillations in homogeneous systems were impossible, because they contradict the second law of thermodynamics, persisted until the mid-1960s (what Anatol Zhabotinsky calls the Dark Age [2]).