In 1951 Borsi Belousov wrote a manuscript that opened a whole new field of chemistry with profound implications for physics and biology. Eventually the research would lead to a Nobel prize, but not for Belousov. His manuscript was rejected by the journals and by the scientific community worldwide. Belousov quit science, discouraged by the reaction from his peers and the early development of the subject was delayed for years.
Boris Pavlovich Belousov was a Soviet chemist who started his work after a distinguished military career. At the Laboratory of Biophysics in the USSR Ministry of Health he began to study the chemistry of reactions related to the extraction of energy from sugars in biology. While seeking an inorganic version of the cycle he stumbled upon a remarkable reaction that oscillated between states with different colours under only the constant influence of stirring. Astounded by the result he repeated the experiment very carefully while varying parameters such as concentrations and temperature to document how the reaction rates changed. His results were written up and submitted to a Russian Journal of Chemistry.
At that time it was known that the rates of some reactions could vary but there were seemingly solid arguments that no reaction could oscillated in such a manner. The journal rejected the manuscript out of hand with the assertion that it was physically impossible so he must have made an error. Belousov made one more attempt to submit his article to peer-review but the result was the same.
Luckily a biochemist Simon Schnoll came to hear of Belousov’s work and persuaded him to submit to an obscure non-reviewed journal to ensure that the work would be recorded. Had he not done so we may never have heard of this seminal research. Even as it was, the development of the subject was delayed by several years. Schnoll assigned a project to one of his graduate students Anatol Zhabotinsky to reproduce the reaction, which he did. It was too late for Belousov who has been so discouraged that he had ended his research. Even while the reaction was being studied in further detail in Russia, Western scientists continued for years to publish refutations. Instead of trying to replicate the result they simply claimed that the reaction was not consistent with the laws of thermodynamics and that some outside contamination must be affecting the results. Their arguments were wrong because they assumed that the reaction reached a stage of thermodynamic equilibrium, but of course it did not.
eventually evidence for the phenomena became overwhelming and was studied in great detail. Similar reactions became the basis for the study of self-organisation in biology and were a key influence on the study of chaotic behaviour in dissipative structures. In 1977 another Russian chemist Ilya Prigogine received the Nobel prize in chemistry for work in this field, seven years after Belousov’s death. Three years later Belousov was posthumously awarded the Lenin prize for his work.