Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Prigogine Medal 2012

Prof. Gerald Pollack
The 2012 Prigogine Medal was presented to Professor Gerald Pollack from the University of Washington at the Sustainable City 2012 conference held in Ancona, Italy earlier this year.

The Prigogine Medal was established by the University of Siena and the Wessex Institute of Technology to honour the memory of Professor Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry.

Professor Carlos A Brebbia expressed the gratitude of the conference and his Institution for the support received from the University of La Marche. He then explained that the work of Prigogine is of direct relevance to the material presented at Sustainable City 2012. Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow in 1917 and obtained his degree in Chemistry at the Free University of Brussels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his contribution to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, particularly the theory of dissipative structures. The main theme of his scientific work was the role of time in the physical sciences and biology. The results of his work have had profound consequences for understanding biological and ecological systems.

Prigogine’s ideas established the basis for ecological systems research. The Prigogine Medal to honour his memory – Carlos said - is awarded annually to a leading scientist in the field of ecological systems. All recipients have been deeply influenced by the work of Prigogine.
Previous Prigogine Medal winners are:
  • 2004 Sven Jorgensen, Denmark
  • 2005 Enzo Tiezzi, Italy
  • 2006 Bernard Patten, USA
  • 2007 Robert Ulanowicz, USA
  • 2009 Ioannis Antoniou, Greece
  • 2010 Felix Müller, Germany
  • 2011 Larissa Brizhik, Ukraine
The establishment of the Medal was in large part an initiative of the late Professor Enzo Tiezzi, an outstanding disciple of Prigogine.

Professor  Brebbia asked Professor Ricardo Pulselli, of the University of Siena, Italy, to say a few words regarding Enzo Tiezzi, a pioneer of complex dynamic systems and the thermodynamics of living systems.
He received the 2005 Medal at the University of Cadiz during an academic ceremony presented by the Rector of that Institution. Professor Tiezzi studied at the University of Florence where he developed an interest in the then novel field of Magnetic Resonance.

While on a Fulbright scholarship at Washington University, he worked under Professor Sam Weissman of the Physics Department and Professor Barry Commoner of the Department of Biology.

The development of Enzo’s outstanding scientific career was matched by a strong involvement in environmental and social issues, reflecting his deep commitment to ecology and Prigogine’s ideas. Professor Tiezzi in addition to numerous papers, published more than 20 books dealing with scientific topics, as well as humanities and poetry. He was an outstanding photographer and artist. Enzo was a good friend of the Wessex Institute as well as a member of its Board of Directors.

His group on Ecology and Thermodynamics, discipline that he called Ecodynamics, continues to carry out Enzo’s research at the University of Siena.

Professor Brebbia thanked Ricardo for his remarks and briefly described the career of Gerald Pollack, the recipient of the 2012 Medal, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, USA.

Gerald received his PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and since then has carried out outstanding research in a wide variety of fields, ranging from biological motion and cell biology to the interaction of biological surfaces with aqueous solutions. He has published numerous papers in leading scientific journals and is author of several books, including one on the underlying principle of biological motion and another on cells and gels as the engines of life.

He has received many awards and is a member of prestigious national and international organisations. Gerald is founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a Fellow of both the American Heart Association and the Biomedical Engineering Society.

Professor Brebbia then asked Professor Nadia Marchettini, of the University of Siena and widow of Enzo Tiezzi to present the medal.

Nadia referred to the saying ‘Scientists do not read Shakespeare and humanists have no sense for the beauty of mathematics’. That is how Prigogine introduced the dichotomy between the two cultures, scientific and humanist.

When Enzo Tiezzi met Carlos A Brebbia – Nadia said – to discuss the idea of launching a special award for scientist-humanistic in memory of his mentor Ilya Prigogine, Enzo clearly expressed the opinion to rejoin those two cultures.

The Prigogine medal was conceived to reward interdisciplinary research and overcome the problem of the fragmentation of knowledge imposed by artificial mesh boundaries’

In this regard it is pertinent to quote Herman Daly, father of Ecological Economics, who said,
‘Real problems do not observe academic boundaries. We certainly believe that thinking should be ‘disciplined’ in the sense of observing logic and facts, but not ‘disciplinary’ in the sense of limiting itself to traditional methodologies and tools that have become enshrined in the academic departments’

Nadia ended her remarks with a few words that Enzo would have to say on occasions and were found in a note amongst his many papers. They are of particular interest in the time of crisis we are currently living ie:

‘Democracy is always the fruit of co-evolution of the natural environment and human culture, and therefore varies from place to place.
‘Democracy can only exist if the natural and cultural diversity of a region is respected and considered, and with it the sacredness of places.
‘Democracy is real democracy if it allows science and art to express themselves without the constraints of utility, ideology, dogma, economic interest or aims. Archimedes used to say that he was not concerned with useful things, only with the free and beautiful.

Nadia then presented the Prigogine Medal to Gerald Pollack who proceeded to deliver his special lecture on ‘The Secret Life of Water: E=H20’, an abstract of which is as follows:
‘School children learn that water has three phases: solid, liquid and vapor. But we have recently uncovered what appears to be a fourth phase. This phase occurs next to water-loving (hydrophilic) surfaces. It is surprisingly extensive, projecting out from the surface by up to millions of molecular layers.

‘Of particular significance is the observation that this fourth phase is charged; and, the water just beyond is oppositely charged, creating a battery that can produce current. We found that light recharges this battery. Thus, water can receive and process electromagnetic energy drawn from the environment — much like plants. The absorbed light energy can then be exploited for performing work, including electrical and mechanical work. Recent experiments confirm the reality of such energy conversion.

‘The energy-conversion framework implied above seems rich with implication. Not only does it provide an understanding of how water processes solar and other energies, but also it may provide a foundation for simpler understanding natural phenomena ranging from weather and green energy all the way to biological issues such as the origin of life, transport, and osmosis.

The lecture presented evidence for the presence of this novel phase of water, and considered the potentially broad implications of this phase for physics, chemistry and biology, as well as some practical applications for engineering.’