Covers the study of (mostly homogeneous) macroscopic systems from a heat/energy/entropy point of view. Maybe combine with [tag:statistical-mechanics].

learn more… | top users | synonyms (3)

15
votes
5answers
2k views

Why isn't absolute $0 K$ temperature possible?

So $T$ is defined as $$T = \left(\frac{\partial E}{\partial S}\right)$$ and $S$ is defined as $$S = k_B \ln \Omega$$ where $\Omega$ is the number of accessible states of the system for a given ...
15
votes
6answers
2k views

Why isn't temperature measured in units of energy?

Temperature is the average of the kinetic energies of all molecules of a body. Then, why do we consider it a different fundamental physical quantity altogether [K], and not an alternate form of ...
15
votes
4answers
33k views

On a hot day, when it's cooler outside than in; is it better to put a fan in an open window pointing inwards or outwards?

If it's really hot inside, but cooler outside; what is the best way to place a single fan to try and cool a room down? I always assumed it would be better pointing inwards (and this thread suggests ...
15
votes
3answers
1k views

Is the total energy of earth changing with time?

Many years ego, Earth was hot. Over time, it has lost energy and has become colder. Is it now in equilibrium or is its total energy changing?
15
votes
1answer
949 views

Why doesn't breath condense around poop of flies on the window's glass?

One day it was raining outside and I was breathing on the glass of my window. I noticed that around the spots of fly poop there is a circle where vapor does not condense. With time the circle becomes ...
15
votes
6answers
449 views

Do gases have phonons?

A phonon is a quantized unit of sound; they are encountered when quantizing lattice vibrations in solids. Now, even an ideal gas supports sound waves, but in such a case, interactions between atoms ...
15
votes
1answer
3k views

When heat is applied to the top of a stack of pennies, why does the bottom penny melt first?

I just watched this video where a blow torch is used on the top of a stack of pennies. I'd like to know why the bottom penny melted first.
15
votes
7answers
2k views

How do you prove the second law of thermodynamics from statistical mechanics?

How do you prove the second law of thermodynamics from statistical mechanics? To prove entropy will only increase with time? How to prove? Please guide.
15
votes
4answers
1k views

How slow is a reversible adiabatic expansion of an ideal gas?

A truly reversible thermodynamic process needs to be infinitesimally displaced from equilibrium at all times and therefore takes infinite time to complete. However, if I execute the process slowly, I ...
14
votes
7answers
21k views

How efficient is an electric heater?

How efficient is an electric heater? My guess: greater than 95%. Possibly even 99%. I say this because most energy is converted into heat; some is converted into light and kinetic energy, and ...
14
votes
6answers
1k views

Gibbs free energy intuition

What is Gibbs free energy? As my book explains: Gibbs energy is the energy of a system available for work. So, what does it want to tell? Why is it free? Energy means ability to do work. What is ...
14
votes
2answers
3k views

Do black holes violate the first law of thermodynamics?

When a black hole absorbs matter is it destroying that mass, thereby destroying energy, therefore violating the first law of thermodynamics?
14
votes
2answers
2k views

Which ball falls faster, the cool one or the hot one?

Suppose we're on the top of the Tower of Pisa (or a larger version of it) with two identical cannonballs. We heat one up (say, to 200 degrees Celsius, or some other high temperature before it starts ...
14
votes
4answers
1k views

Is the second law of thermodynamics a fundamental law, or does it emerge from other laws?

My question is basically this. Is the second law of thermodynamics a fundamental, basic law of physics, or does it emerge from more fundamental laws? Let's say I was to write a massive computer ...
14
votes
2answers
1k views

Why is cooling much harder than heating?

I'm trying to invent a distillation apparatus that runs solely on electricity. Suddenly, I realized that cooling things is really hard, while heating them up is so easy. Actually, it seems that there ...
14
votes
5answers
785 views

How does dark matter collapse?: Entropy considerations

Inspired by this question. I believe that the usual explanation that preserves the second law of thermodynamics as an astrophysical gas cloud collapses under gravity is that the gas must heat and ...
14
votes
6answers
4k views

Why does the Boltzmann factor $e^{-E/kT}$ seem to imply that lower energies are more likely?

I'm looking for an intuitive understanding of the factor $$e^{-E/kT}$$ so often discussed. If we interpret this as a kind of probability distribution of phase space, so that $$\rho(E) = ...
14
votes
2answers
7k views

Minimal temperature achievable by vanilla Peltier element?

I wonder, are there any fundamental issues leading to reduced performance of Peltier elements at cryogenic temperatures (-100C and lower)? What is theoretical/practical minimum temperature ...
14
votes
1answer
3k views

Is there some way to narrow down the Leidenfrost point for water?

Cooks sometimes use the Leidenfrost effect to estimate the temperature of a frying pan by flicking a few drops of water onto the heated pan. I had no idea, before looking into this, that this could be ...
14
votes
1answer
465 views

Does this type of phase transition exist?

The short version of this question is: Is there, or could there be, a system with a phase transition where adding a small amount of heat causes a discontinuous jump in its temperature? Below are ...
14
votes
5answers
3k views

Entropy of radiation emitted into space

In several papers I see something equivalent to the following expression for the entropy of radiation given by an astronomical object such as the Sun (assuming the object can be approximated as a ...
13
votes
5answers
3k views

Why does my fireplace shoot flames out the front until I open my backdoor?

I have a natural gas fireplace with fake logs in it. I open the flue, turn on the gas for a couple seconds, and throw a match in. The flames kind of go up and out of the flue, but most of the flames ...
13
votes
3answers
3k views

Is this thought experiment violating the the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

There is an adiabatic box, with a board in the middle, which is adiabatic too.The board separates the box into two parts and there is a small hole in it, which is close to a coil and the hole has a ...
13
votes
1answer
2k views

Why do I feel cold air in the shower?

Our house has a glass sliding door to the shower. The shower has the dimensions of about 2 feet wide, 5 feet long, and 6 feet high. Above the door (and shower head) there is about 1 foot of open space ...
13
votes
4answers
17k views

After what speed air friction starts to heat up an object?

I understand that air friction cools off an object at low speeds. For example, if you blow on a spoon of hot soup, it cools off. Or if you swing a hot frying pan in the air, it cools off faster. But ...
13
votes
7answers
3k views

References about rigorous thermodynamics

Can you suggest some references for rigorous treatment of thermodynamics? I want things like reversibility, equilibrium to be clearly defined in terms of the basic assumptions of the framework.
13
votes
4answers
1k views

How does the heat death looks like from inside the system?

As this answer points out, any human would first freeze rather than experience the heat death. However, assuming hypothetically that we could make some robot live at such low temperature (or even ...
13
votes
1answer
438 views

How hot would tritium water be?

I realize this is kind of a silly question, but if you have tritium water, with the tritium half life of 12.5 years, I expect it would be quite hot. (note, this is not a homework question, I'm just ...
13
votes
2answers
2k views

How can it be that the sun emits more than a black body?

As far as I know, a black body is an ideal emitter. So how can it be that a non-ideal emitter emits more radiation than a black body? This happens only in a very limited area at around 500nm, but it ...
13
votes
3answers
2k views

How to freeze the Niagara waterfalls?

Here is a picture of the usual vigorous Niagara Falls (in the winter). Here is the picture of Niagara Falls frozen in 1933 (in the very cold winter). Here is the picture of Niagara Falls frozen in ...
13
votes
2answers
458 views

The entropic cost of tying knots in polymers

Imagine I take a polymer like polyethylene, of length $L$ with some number of Kuhn lengths $N$, and I tie into into a trefoil knot. What is the difference in entropy between this knotted polymer and ...
13
votes
2answers
1k views

How does a gas of particles with uniform speed reach the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution?

Take an empty container and fill it with $N$ gas particles (ideally a monoatomic gas), each having the same kinetic energy $E$, then isolate the container. Since initially the speeds don't follow the ...
13
votes
4answers
5k views

Thermodynamics of supercooled water

Now that it's been freezing outside for the last few days, I experimented a bit with supercooling. I've left a bottle of clean water outside for a few hours, and behold, when I shook the bottle, the ...
13
votes
4answers
411 views

Discontinuities and nondifferentiability in thermodynamics

In physics and engineering sources, calculus-based formalisms - whether differential forms on a manifold, or "differentials" of functions of several variables - are presented as a way of modeling and ...
13
votes
2answers
462 views

Definition of stress at the microscale

Take, for simplicity, a Lennard-Jones fluid below the critical temperature, which is to say that there is a phase separation into fluid and gas and thus an interface is formed. The macroscale picture ...
13
votes
3answers
311 views

What makes now special?

I recently came across the paper Relation between the psychological and thermodynamic arrows of time (arXiv). Their argument makes sense to me, however their concept doesn't seem to address what ...
12
votes
7answers
4k views

Drying clothes with the sun's heat, without any air

Will my wet clothes dry if I hang them under the sun, and if there is no air around the clothes? In other words, do I need both air and heat to dry wet clothes, or is heat alone (in the imagined ...
12
votes
3answers
884 views

Intuitive understanding of the definition of entropy

In Wikipedia, the definition of entropy goes like this: $ d S = \dfrac{\delta q_{\rm }}{T}$. The literal interpretation of this equation is that some amount of heat transferred into a system, if the ...
12
votes
2answers
2k views

Temperature of a neutron star

In our everyday experience termperature is due to the motion of atoms, molecules, etc. A neutron star, where protons and electrons are fused together to form neutrons, is nothing but a huge nucleus ...
12
votes
9answers
2k views

Entropy increase vs Conservation of information (QM)

Unitarity of quantum mechanics prohibits information destruction. On the other hand, the second law of thermodynamics claims entropy to be increasing. If entropy is to be thought of as a measure of ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

A water drop in vacuum

Let's imagine the following situation: At an initial moment $t=0$, a large water drop with diameter for example $D=10\ \text{cm}$ is placed in deep space (Say an astronaut is experimenting). Let's ...
12
votes
3answers
3k views

Why are materials that are better at conducting electricity also proportionately better at conducting heat?

It seems like among the electrical conductors there's a relationship between the ability to conduct heat as well as electricity. Eg: Copper is better than aluminum at conducting both electricity and ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

The notion of an adiabatic process in thermodynamics -vs- quantum mechanics

I'm confused about the terminology in the two contexts since I can't figure out if they have a similar motivation. Afaik, the definitions state that quantum processes should be very slow to be called ...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Temperature below absolute zero?

I saw this Nature article today, which cites e.g. arXiv:1211.0545. And it makes no sense to me. The temperature of a collection of particles is the average kinetic energy of those particles. Kinetic ...
12
votes
4answers
24k views

Why does adding solutes to pure water lower the the specific heat?

We found that water with salt, sugar, or baking soda dissolved in it cools faster than pure water. Water has a very high specific heat; how do these solutes lower it? We heated a beaker (300ml) of ...
12
votes
7answers
12k views

Explanation of “thermite vs ice” explosion

There are several videos of the reaction, where some amount of burning thermite explodes on a contact with ice. An "original" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuPjlYxUWc8 A Mythbusters ...
12
votes
1answer
909 views

Why is (von Neumann) entropy maximized for an ensemble in thermal equilibrium?

Consider a quantum system in thermal equilibrium with a heat bath. In determining the density operator of the system, the usual procedure is to maximize the von Neumann entropy subject to the ...
12
votes
2answers
377 views

Will Neil Armstrong's moon boot marks really last for thousands of years?

This question concerns the residual heat (if any) contained within the Earth's moon. At the time of the Apollo moon landings, it was widely reported that the boot marks left by the astronauts would ...
12
votes
1answer
452 views

A formal procedure for thermodynamic relations

This is my third time taking a thermodynamics course (two in undergrad, one in grad), and I've finally become frustrated enough about something to post on here. A lot of thermodynamic questions want ...
12
votes
3answers
264 views

Self Stirring Boiling Liquid

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were brewing a new batch of beer. We boil our wort in a turkey fryer. Pretty standard setup for beginners. Anyway, our wort was getting pretty close to boiling ...