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 chemical ruthenium bipyridyl 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 (the dates change depending on source, but it 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.
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 A. M. Zhabotinsky rediscovered this reaction sequence; however, the results of these men's work were still not widely disseminated, and was not known in the West until a conference in Prague in 1968.
There are a number of BZ cocktails 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.
Andrew Adamatzky, a computer scientist in the University of the West of England reported on liquid logic gates using the BZ reaction.