Ludwig Boltzmann was probably the most important scientist of the 19th century. He was an Austrian physicist who introduced the concept of atoms. He was ridiculed and harassed to the extent that he eventually committed suicide in a desperate depression of what he saw as a rejection of him and his life’s work. The most prominent scientists of the time stood up during his lectures to declare that atoms are just an imaginary construct to explain mathematical formulations, not reality. Scientific journals did not even allow him to use the term, “atom,” as it was just not scientific. Besides who has ever seen an atom? He traveled to the attend the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904, also to Berkeley and Stanford, where he lectured and discussed his atomic theories with colleagues, but failed to realize that proof of his concepts and theories was just around the corner, and he would be vindicated. But it was not to be. In 1906, while vacationing in Italy he hanged himself while his family was out swimming in the Adriatic.
The picture above is his gravesite in the Zentralfriehof (Central cemetery) of Vienna. The inscription above his bust, S=k.log W is a formula that sums up his interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics. S is entropy (the level of disorganization), k is the Boltzmann constant, and W is all the possible molecular states. In 1906 there were four known states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.
But there is a fifth possible molecular state, the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) that both men had theorized but was not created until 1995, long after Bose and Einstein had joined the immortals. Satyendra Nath Bose, born in Calcutta India, became a theoretical physicist. While studying a particular molecular relationship of gases under various thermal environments, called the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, he theorized that under very cold conditions, the molecules would not behave as the Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics predicted. He presented his thoughts to Albert Einstein who agreed and helped Bose publish his theory. During extremely low temperatures, he showed that atoms lose their individual structure and fuse together into one super-atom at the balmy warm temperature of one billionth of a degree above absolute 0. Matter does not behave the same in this state. Electrons can sneak through the maze of now motionless fused together atoms, without any loss of heat, it now has become a superconductor. That super cool matter can even explode like a supernova, fondly called “a bosenova.” I never got past college freshman physics, so my level of physics competency would not be able to tell you if Bose-Einstein condensates would also act differently than Boltzmann’s formula on entropy would predict.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is constant in the universe. It can neither be created nor destroyed, although it can transform from one state to another. For example, fire can heat water which will produce steam which will drive a piston up and down to turn a wheel. Heat is transformed into mechanical energy.
The second law was the focus of Boltzmann’s attention. Entropy, the level of disorganization, increases with time. He realized that the disorder in the universe must always get more disorganized. Even if you think you are organizing your house, sweeping, washing, making the beds, straightening the table cloth etc. etc., you are breathing, moving muscles, moving the broom. In aggregate, you are using up energy, disbursing heat, excreting CO2, using up O2, burning up sugar and degrading the body’s tissues. You are increasing entropy. Just as burning a log in the fireplace making a pile of ashes from an organized piece of wood, with bark, fibers, and nutrients that used to course through its tubules. Entropy is increasing, as it must. Just as the energy of heat must flow from a higher level of heat to a lower level (colder) and can never be in the opposite direction, things are constantly getting worse. But as it does so, it peels off energy. Without this energy nothing would work, nothing could grow, nothing could exist. It is this energy we use to live and thrive. In driving a car it burns a very organized, symmetrical, aromatic six carbon organic chemical, that derives from ancient life through complex processes. As it combusts, it winds up as CO2 and H2O. But it generates the energy to get us from point A to point B. Without this inevitable process called entropy, we would not be able to survive. Eventually, entropy will reach a level of equilibrium where no further disorganization can happen, where entropy will cease to increase. This will happen when no more energy is readily available, and the universe will be a dark, empty, and cold place. But don’t worry, this will take billions upon trillions of years. We can still celebrate a few more birthdays.
The third law of thermodynamics deals with when entropy reaches that equilibrium. Entropy will reach a steady-state, when it is so cold it will be the theoretically lowest temperature that it can get, 0 Kelvin. If heat is molecular motion, there will be absolutely no motion. In Centigrade that would be – 273.5 ̊C which happens to be absolute zero, calculated correctly by William Thomson, which earned him the title of Lord Kelvin.
At that temperature, the state of matter would all transform into the Bose-Einstein condensate, one super-atom of the universe. And if S=k.logW does not apply to this form of matter, it would set up for the release of all the nuclear forces, another “Big Bang” or in this case a “Bosenova” as so eloquently stated by Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”