Posts Tagged ‘thermodynamics’

Peter Atkins’ Four laws that drive the universe

November 23, 2008

I finished reading Peter Atkins’ Four laws; I enjoyed it a lot, and I have no hesitations in recommending it. I hope OUP publishes a low priced, paperback edition so that many more students will have access to this wonderful book.

Be it the very first sentence in the book

The zeroth law is an afterthought

which reminded me of some good openings of certain mystery novels, or the interesting pieces of information (as, for example, that in the original Celsius scale, water froze at 100 and bolied at 0 degrees Celcius), or the deep concepts explained in a rather lucid fashion (like the section on Fluctuation-Dissipation theorem on page. 42), or the new aspects of looking at thermodynamics that the book introduces (for example, as to why Boltzmann constant is not to be considered a fundamental constant but a conversion factor), I never found the book dull (though, at times, I did find it to be very engrossing and a bit time-consuming to go through the arguments).

Overall, I also think that the approach used by Atkins, namely

… we consider first the observational aspects of each law, then dive below thhe surface of bulk matter and discover the illumination that comes from the interpretation of the laws in terms of concepts that inhabit the underworld of atoms[.]

is very natural and effective; concepts like energy, entropy, temperature, enthalpy, and Helmholtz and Gibbs free energies are explained by Atkins using this approach; and, by far, these are some of the best explanations that I have seen.

Let me end this post by quoting Paul Davies from the blurb of the book,

Arkins is a master expositor, who combines penetrating insight with simplicity of style and a gentle elegance.

Hunt for the book in your library; or, better still, buy yourself a copy and have fun!

PS: By the way, here is an YouTube video wherein Atkins introduces the book.

Note to self: At least a couple of books from Atkins’ Further Reading list sound interesting: G N Lewis and M Randall, Thermodynamics and B Widom, Statistical Mechanics: a concise introduction for chemists.

PS 2: Thanks to my colleague Rajesh for introducing the book to me, and agreeing to part it for the last one month. I hope to get a personal copy for myself soon.

Molecular machines and their operation

December 11, 2007

An interesting paper in the latest issue of PNAS titled Adiabatic operation of a molecular machine by R Dean Astumian:

Operation of a molecular machine is often thought of as a “far from equilibrium” process in which energy released by some high free energy fuel molecule or by light is used to drive a nonequilibrium “power stroke” to do work on the environment. Here we discuss how a molecular machine can be operated arbitrarily close to chemical equilibrium and still perform significant work at an appreciable rate: micrometer per second velocities against piconewton loads. As a specific example, we focus on a motor based on a three-ring catenane similar to that discussed by Leigh [Leigh DA, Wong JKY, Dehez F, Zerbetto F (2003) Nature 424:174–179]. The machine moves through its working cycle under the influence of external modulation of the energies of the states, where the modulation is carried out slowly enough that the state probabilities obey a Boltzmann equilibrium distribution at every instant. The mechanism can be understood in terms of the geometric phase [Berry MV (1990) Phys Today 43(12):34–40] in which the system moves adiabatically around a closed loop in parameter space, completing, on average, nearly one-half mechanical cycle each time it does so. Because the system is very close to equilibrium at every instant, the efficiency can approach 100%.

Sounds interesting; take a look!

Some more thermodynamics

October 8, 2007

Didn’t I tell you about the bit of thermodynamics in every researcher’s life? Rajeev, at his Almanack, writes about the geometry of thermodynamics, the close analogy between thermodynamics and geometric optics, and geometrisation of thermodynamics as the first step towards quantum thermodynamics. What is more, the hero of the piece is none other than Gibbs (with S Chandrashekhar also being part of the cast):

… the main problem I had was to find out information about good old fashioned classical thermodynamics. Except for some treatments by V. I. Arnold and Chnadrashekhar, I had to go all the way back to the literature of almost a hundred years to find a sophisticated discussion on the subject. J. W. Gibbs is the main hero of the story, his ideas were developed by Pfaff and Caratheodory into a beautiful if under-appreciated subject.

Take a look!

A bit of thermodynamics

October 3, 2007

Steel Authority of India Limited used to run a campaign with the slogan “There is a bit of SAIL in everybody’s life” (and the one I remember vividly is that of a housewife with a steel key tied to her saree end). Same can be said of thermodynamics — there is a bit of thermodynamics in every materials researcher’s life. And, lest I forget, there is thermodynamics and thermodynamics (as the spirited discussions in this iMechanica post shows). Here are a couple of links (which, by the way, also indicate the range and richness of the field).

  • In This week in cond-mat series, Doug at Nanoscale views writes about a couple of papers: Violation of Wiedemann -Franz law in single electron transistors, and another on quantum heat engines (and, yes, they do obey Carnot’s theorem).
  • More closer to the thermodynamics in my research life is the on going journal club discussion at iMechanica on Irreversible thermodynamics of continuous media. Anurag, the moderator of the discussions, refers to a couple of books, which I have not read. However, I did read Silhavy’s The mechanics and thermodynamics of continuous media on the recommendation of my continuum mechanics instructor (and, found it very nice too).

    Anurag, then proceeds to recommend a couple of papers for spatial pattern formation on systems that are far from equilibrium — that of Prigogine, and Cross and Hohenberg. I have not read the papers of Prigogine. But, I have lots to say about the review article of Cross and Hohenberg; I probably will do a couple of posts in the near future.

    Anurag ends the post with links to a couple of papers on plastic evolution — that of Bridgman and Hartley. Again, this is an area that is just at the periphery of my research interests. So, I might do a post on these, but not in the immediate future. In the meanwhile, have fun at iMechanica, where there is also plenty of discussions.

Happy reading!