"He is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

George Bernard Shaw

Ex-communication in Science

Art Winfree, a leading American authority on the ins-outs of the reaction, has described how Boris Pavlovitch Belousov performed the key work on this chemical reaction while working for the Soviet Ministry of Health in the early 1950s. During his research he concocted a strange mixture of chemicals meant to resemble and so throw further light on aspects of the Kreebs cycle, a metabolic pathway by which living cells break down foodstuffs into energy. Belousov's experiment contained a mixture of chemicals to mimic the reaction. To his amazement, the solution started to oscillate between being colourless and of a yellow hue. This might not sound earth shattering, but it was totally against all theoretical expectations. The reaction seemed to occur, and then turn back on itself in defiance of the Laws of Thermodynamics. Belousov was the first to perform this experiment which verified various theories proposed by mathematicians. However, as Winfree has written: 'its antics turn out to resemble nothing foreseen in the thirty years devoted to the subject by theoretical chemists and biologists'. Unfortunately for Belousov, the reaction was so peculiar that he had great trouble in convincing the scientific establishment of its veracity In 1951 a manuscript of his work was rejected. The editor told him that his 'supposedly discovered discovery was quite impossible. Belousov submitted other reports, only to have them published in obscure publications, often in drastically abbreviated forms. The scientific establishment was so besotted with the simplistic interpretation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics - order decaying uniformly to disorder - that no one was prepared to accept Belousov's reports. People thought the second law said that a chemical reaction always heads for degenerate equilibrium. A chemical clock which switches between two colours implies that the reaction is somehow turning back on itself, a travesty of the Second Law. (In fact, Belousov was not the first to suffer from this misinterpretation. The discovery of an oscillating chemical reaction in the conversion of hydrogen peroxide to water by William Bray of the University of California at Berkeley in 1921 was dismissed as an artifact caused by poor experimental procedure.) In the ensuing years, the scientific community began to discover just how important Belousov's work was. Unfortunately, Belousov died in 1970, before receiving his deserved international recognition for his work. Science is about experiment, but only as long as the experiments support the current theories. This is an example of science considering something impossible in principle and therefore discounting it out of hand!

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