Science Corner: Dancing in the Sunshine

sun photo

The localized nature of the sun is good for more than just pretty sunsets Photo by dan.kristiansen

The second law of thermodynamics gets trotted out all the time, especially in conversations about evolutionary biology. Less familiar are principles of maximum entropy production, which deal specifically with systems that are not in equilibrium (everything the same temperature). Most of the situations we experience involve differences in temperature, but there’s still a lot to learn about how physics works when temperatures differ (at least partly because the math is more complicated). Which brings us to this study of what carbon nanotubes do to maximize entropy when they aren’t at equilibrium.

Perhaps counter to our intuition, the nanotubes organize into intricate structures in order to maximize entropy. They can be seen “wiggling” in a video in the story. The nanotubes are no baby Groot, and the article probably makes too much of the motion and the appearance of being alive, but the video is still a good illustration that producing entropy doesn’t have to involve chaos.

The article also reminds us that the sun is the ultimate reason why so many of our experiences are not at equilibrium. The sun is hotter than the earth, creating a temperature difference, and just as important, the sun is in just one part of the sky. If sunlight came from all directions at all times, there would be fewer opportunities to get away from equilibrium. This feature of the sun makes me think about God. We want God to be all things to all people, to shine his blessing on whatever we desire. Yet God insists on being true to his nature; he only endorses those choices that are consistent with his will. Apparently, this is exactly what we need to live . . . and to dance.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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