If you thought that a child’s room, a Norwegian Nobel Laureate and a laser pointer had nothing in common, two UA physicists are about to enlighten you.
It is hard to believe, but after possessing unravelled numerous of the laws that make the universe tick, physicists still have not reached an agreement on whether something as seemingly simple as ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ can be estimated in a system under certain circumstances.
“Imagine you consider an iceberg into the sun and right before it is melted and gone, you intended to know, how it is that iceberg at that moment’ would that be a meaningful question to ask,” says Charles Stafford, a lecturer in the Department of Physics in the UA’s College of Science. “According to the traditional physics, it would not be.”
Placed simply, conventional knowledge holds that properties like temperature of voltage can be just estimated as long as a system is in equilibrium. “Voltage and temperature are two basic variables developed in the 19th century,” says Stafford. “so it might come as a shock that such basic movements have till now lacked a mathematically rigorous definition except for the case of equilibrium, an idealized concept that does not actually occur in nature, expect perhaps for the ‘heat death’ expected to mark the end of the universe.”
“We have revealed that actually any state of a system whatsoever, even far from equilibrium can be considered by a temperature,” says Stafford. It is where the children room comes into the scene. Everything in the universe – from galaxies to quarks has an inherent tendency to accomplish equilibrium with its surroundings and head towards the biggest possible degree of disorder. In actuality, such procedure, known as entropy and illustrated in the Second law of Thermodynamics is a bit more intricate but let’s not thinks about it now.
Shastry and Stafford are presently identifying a possible collaboration with Pramod Reddy, a team member at the University of Michigan whose lab has set the record in preparing a thermometer potential of probing temperature across a couple of atoms, to subject their findings to experimental study. Another stance to which the work may apply is nuclear magnetic resonance, a technology regularly used in medical imaging. “Someone who has experienced that may have not realized the atomic nuclei in their body were put into the state of absolute negative temperature, which is hotter than anything in the universe, but that is the situation,” says Stafford.
“Our theory is highly general. It applies to range of things, from quark – gluon plasmas generated in particle accelerators to laser pointers to neutron stars,” says Shastry. “They all follow the precise formalism.”
“The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the most general of not just the laws of physics, but all the laws of nature,” says Stafford. “And there are numerous practitioners in this arena of quantum physics who are proposing that the second law does not apply to system that are in a state that is far from equilibrium, but we reveal that it does.”
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