A Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, or BZ reaction, is one of a class of reactions that serve as a classical example of nonequilibrium thermodynamics, resulting in the establishment of a nonlinear chemical oscillator. The only common element in these oscillating systems is the inclusion of bromine and an acid. The reactions are theoretically important in that they show that chemical reactions do not have to be dominated by equilibrium thermodynamic behavior. These reactions are far from equilibrium and remain so for a significant length of time and evolve chaotically. In this sense, they provide an interesting chemical model of nonequilibrium biological phenomena, and the mathematical models of the BZ reactions themselves are of theoretical interest and simulations.
An essential aspect of the BZ reaction is its so called "excitability"; under the influence of stimuli, patterns develop in what would otherwise be a perfectly quiescent medium. Some clock reactions such as Briggs–Rauscher and BZ using the tris(bipyridine)ruthenium(II) chloride as catalyst can be excited into self-organising activity through the influence of light.
The discovery of the phenomenon is credited to Boris Belousov. He noted, some time in the 1950s (various sources date ranges from 1951 to 1958), that in a mix of potassium bromate, cerium(IV) sulfate, malonic acid, and citric acid in dilute sulfuric acid, the ratio of concentration of the cerium(IV) and cerium(III) ions oscillated, causing the colour of the solution to oscillate between a yellow solution and a colorless solution. This is due to the cerium(IV) ions being reduced by malonic acid to cerium(III) ions, which are then oxidized back to cerium(IV) ions by bromate(V) ions.
Belousov made two attempts to publish his finding, but was rejected on the grounds that he could not explain his results to the satisfaction of the editors of the journals to which he submitted his results. Soviet biochemist Simon El'evich Shnoll encouraged Belousov to continue his efforts to publish his results. His work was finally published in a less respectable, nonreviewed journal.
After Belousov's publication, Schnoll gave the project in 1961 to a graduate student, Anatol Zhabotinsky, who investigated the reaction sequence in detail; however, the results of these men's work were still not widely disseminated, and were not known in the West until a conference in Prague in 1968.
A number of BZ cocktails are available in the chemical literature and on the web. Ferroin, a complex of phenanthroline and iron, is a common indicator. These reactions, if carried out in petri dishes, result in the formation first of colored spots. These spots grow into a series of expanding concentric rings or perhaps expanding spirals similar to the patterns generated by a cyclic cellular automaton. The colors disappear if the dishes are shaken, and then reappear. The waves continue until the reagents are consumed. The reaction can also be performed in a beaker using a magnetic stirrer.
Strikingly similar oscillatory spiral patterns appear elsewhere in nature, at very different spatial and temporal scales, for example the growth pattern of Dictyostelium discoideum, a soil-dwelling amoeba colony. In the BZ reaction, the size of the interacting elements is molecular and the time scale of the reaction is minutes. In the case of the soil amoeba, the size of the elements is typical of single-celled organisms and the times involved are on the order of days to years.
In a way similar to the Briggs–Rauscher reaction, two key processes (both of which are auto-catalytic) occur; process A generates molecular bromine, giving the red colour, and process B consumes the bromine to give bromide ions.
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- Interactive Science Experiment Showcasing the BZ Reaction (A-Level)
- A Survey Article on the Mathematics of the BZ Reaction
- The Scholarpedia article on the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction
- The Belousov–Zhabotinski Reaction
- The Belousov–Zhabotinsky Reaction
- The Phenomenology of the Belousov–Zhabotinsky Reaction, with pictures
- BZ reaction and explanation at The Periodic Table of Videos
- The Belousov–Zhabotinski Reaction PDF file
- Paper cargo surfs chemical waves — Oscillating chemical waves induced by BZ reactions can propel small objects, New Scientist, 18 February 2008
- The home page of Anatol M. Zhabotinsky
- Simulating Belousov-Zhabotinsky Reactions in Pixel Bender A simulation of the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction running inside Flash Player