A Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, or BZ reaction, is one of a class of reactions that serve as a classical example of non-equilibrium 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. 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.

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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, sometime in the 1950s (various sources' date ranges from 1951 to 1958), that in a mix of potassium bromate, cerium(IV) sulfate, propanedioic 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 propanedioic acid to cerium(III) ions, which are then oxidized back to cerium(IV) ions by bromate(V) ions.

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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. His work was finally published in a less respectable, non-reviewed journal.

Later, in 1961, a graduate student named Anatol Zhabotinsky rediscovered this reaction sequence; 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.