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In this essay I examine the ways in which the Belousov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction is being used by biologists to model a variety of biological systems and processes. The BZ reaction is characterized as a functional model of biological phenomena. It is able to play this role because, though based on very different substrates, the model and system modeled are examples of the same type of excitable medium. Lessons are drawn from this case about the relationships between the sciences of chemistry and biology.