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Researchers: Fifth state of matter may defy 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

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Bose-Einstein condensate from gas: While the height of the chart represents the number of atoms, the position of the “bump” doesn’t actually correspond to position: these are velocity distributions. As the atoms transition to a BEC, they all begin to move with close to the same velocity, rather than the bell-curve distribution typical of thermodynamics at higher temperatures./NIST/JILA/CU-Boulder.

From Physics Central:

Incredibly, a group at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in South Korea has just published some findings in Physical Review Letters indicating that the traditionally robust laws of thermodynamics may not hold up in the quantum world. Instead, they argue that for certain situations equilibrium is not reached, regardless of the amount of time allowed to pass. As they explain, this is like a slice of pizza that starts out unevenly heated—but instead of equalizing over time, the hot and cold spots just stay there indefinitely!

The team, composed of theoretical physicists Thudiyangal Mithun, Yagmur Kati, Carlo Danieli, and Sergej Flach, started off examining what is known as a Gross-Pitaevskii lattice. Although the terminology is daunting, this is just a mathematical model that characterizes energy and particle distributions for a variety of situations—so many, in fact, that Danieli and Flach refer to it as “one of the canonical models of mathematical physics”. Among others, these scenarios include Bose-Einstein condensates (which will be described in more detail below) and certain types of interactions between light and matter.

With the assistance of powerful computers, the group investigated the long-term behavior of this model’s energy distribution and were surprised to find that under certain conditions, hot and cold spots just don’t go away. Instead, they remain “frozen” in place, in direct violation of classical thermal physics! This phenomenon has been dubbed a “dynamical glass phase”, a term reminiscent of its simultaneous stability and fragility.

What’s really going on here? The short answer is that it’s just too early to tell. All of this work was theoretical, so one of the next steps should be to test it in the laboratory by cooling ultracold atomic gases to temperatures near absolute zero. This creates what’s known as a quantum Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a special state of matter where quantum phenomena become readily apparent. More.

It’s only a computer model as yet. As Physics Central notes, this won’t change much in everyday life: “[t]his research is a great example of what happens when you push a physics theory to its breaking point.” However, 2 Thermo has been a contentious issue as far as evolution is concerned. See, for example, mathematician Granville Sewell, “A little timeline on the Second Law argument.” It would be interesting if the law was not quite so straightforward as usually assumed.

See also: Are Darwinian claims for evolution consistent with the 2nd law of thermodynamics? (Rob Sheldon)

Thoughts on the Second Law “I agree with Dr. Sewell that many advocates of materialistic evolution have tried to support their case by arguing that the Earth is an open system, so I think his efforts to debunk that nonsense are worthwhile, and I applaud him for the effort. Personally, I am astounded that he has had to spend so much time on the issue, as the idea of life arising and evolution proceeding due to Earth being an open system is so completely off the mark and preposterous as to not even be worthy of much discussion. Yet it raises its head from time to time. ” (Eric Anderson)


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