The 2018 Prigogine Gold Medal was awarded to Professor Stuart Kauffman, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

The Prigogine Gold Medal 2018 Award Ceremony took place at the University of Siena on Tuesday 4th September 2018, during the first day of the 10th International Conference on Sustainable Development and Planning (SDP).

The Prigogine Medal was established by the University of Siena and the Wessex Institute of Technology in 2004 to honour the memory of Professor Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry.


Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow in 1917, and obtained his undergraduate and graduate education in chemistry at the Free University in 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. He contributed significantly to the understanding of irreversible processes, particularly in systems far from equilibrium. 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 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 Laureates:

2004 Sven Jorgensen, Denmark
2005 Enzo Tiezzi, Italy
2006 Bernard Patten, USA
2007 Robert Ulanowicz, USA
2008 Ioannis Antoniou, Greece
2009 Emilio del Giudice, Italy
2010 Felix Müller, Germany
2011 Larissa Brizhik, Ukraine
2012 Gerald Pollack, USA
2013 Vladimir Voeikov, Russia
2014 Mae-wan Ho, UK
2015 Bai-Lian Larry Li, USA
2016 Brian Fath, USA
2017 João Carlos Marques, Portugal

The 2018 Medal was awarded to Professor Stuart Kauffman, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and affiliate faculty at the Institute for Systems Biology.

Professor Stuart Kauffman is an American medical doctor, theoretical biologist, and complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth. He was a professor the Universities of Chicago, Pennsylvania and Calgary. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and affiliate faculty at the Institute for Systems Biology. He has a number of awards including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Wiener Medal.

He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organisation and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection as discussed in his book Origins of Order (1993). In 1967 and 1969 Kauffman used random boolean networks to investigate generic self-organising properties of gene regulatory networks. Using these models, he proposed that cell types are dynamical attractors in gene regulatory networks and that cell differentiation can be understood as transitions between attractors. Recent evidence suggests that cell types in humans and other organisms are attractors. In 1971 he suggested that a zygote may not be able to access all the cell type attractors in its gene regulatory network during development and that some of the developmentally inaccessible cell types might be cancer cell types. This suggested the possibility of "cancer differentiation therapy". He also proposed the self-organised emergence of collectively autocatalytic sets of polymers, specifically peptides, for the origin of molecular reproduction, which have found experimental support.


A World Beyond Physics: The Emergence and Evolution of Life

delivered by Professor Stuart Kauffman at the University of Siena, Italy, Spain

The emergence and evolution of life is based on physics but is beyond physics. Evolution is an historical process arising from the non-ergodicity of the universe above the level of atoms. Most complex things will never exist. Human hearts exist. Prebiotic chemistry saw the evolution of many organic molecules in complex reaction networks, and the formation of low energy structures such as membranes. Theory and experiments suggest that from this, the spontaneous emergence of self reproducing molecular systems could arise and evolve. Such “collectively autocatalytic systems” cyclically link non-equilibrium processes whose constrained release of energy constitutes “work” to construct the same constraints on those non-equilibrium processes. Cells yoke a set of non-equilibrium processes and constraints on the energy released as work to build their own constraints and reproduce.

Such systems are living, and can propagate their organization with heritable variations, so can be subject to natural selection. In this evolution, these proto-organisms emerge unprestatably, and afford novel niches enabling, not causing, further types of proto-organisms to emerge. With this, unprestatable new functions arise. The ever-changing phase space of evolution includes these functionalities. Since we cannot prestate these ever new functionalities, we can write no laws of motion for this evolution, which is therefor entailed by no laws at all, and thus not reducible to physics. Beyond entailing law, the evolving biosphere literally constructs itself and is the most complex system we know in the universe.

For further information about the Prigogine Awards, please contact:

Wessex Institute of Technology
Ashurst Lodge, Ashurst
SO40 7AA, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 238 029 3223
Fax: +44 (0) 238 029 2853
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See the following Web pages for details of recent Prigogine Awards:

Further details of all Prigogine Awards can be found on our dedicated page: Prigogine Award