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"Breaking" the second law of thermodynamics

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#1 jusconst



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Posted 2 March 2013 - 10:18 PM

Here is something that has held my interest for a while now. I was reading my thermodynamics textbook and there was a short article that mentions an experiment involving nanoparticles where the second law did not apply for up to two seconds. It then gave this citation [Phys. Rev.Lett. 89, 050601 (2002)] . If you would like read the topic more in detail here is a link to a description of their experiment http://www.aip.org/pnu/2002/split/598-1.html . I have asked my thermodynamics professor what he thought of it, but he didn't want to believe it. I asked my modern physics professor that does research in micoelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and he was not surprised. I am just curious on what your views are on this experiment. 

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#2 InigoMontoya



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Posted 5 March 2013 - 06:19 AM

On a sufficiently small scale and for sufficiently short periods of time I don't see a problem.  The thought experiment for me is....


Control volume with precisely 2 atoms in it.  It would be nice to get all atoms on one side of the volume.  Just by chance, 25% of the time you're going to meet that "more ordered" condition.  But that doesn't mean you can keep it up indefinitely or that the idea scales well.

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#3 CaptainPanic


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Posted 8 March 2013 - 11:05 AM

Entropy (or statistics, for that matter) doesn't really apply for systems with too few particles. InigoMontoya said essentially the same thing. Also, in the article, this piece of text summarizes it pretty well

In systems of only a few particles, the statistics are grainier, and circumstances may arise that would be highly improbable in large systems. Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics is not generally applied to small collections of particles. (source: original article from OP)


The original article doesn't seem to be very sensational. They also don't say that the 2nd law is "broken". That choice of words is entirely by jusconst (our OP). The original title is "Pushing the Second Law to the Limit".


I am surprised that the thermodynamics teacher wouldn't believe it. I would expect a thermodynamics teacher to understand this article. To me, there is no conflict between theory and this experiment.

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Veni, vidi, modeli - I came, I saw, and I modeled it

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