Law and Disorder: Chance fluctuations can rule the nanorealm | Science News

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Law and Disorder: Chance fluctuations can rule the nanorealm

8:42am, July 24, 2002

Whether it's the gasoline-to-motion transformation of automobiles or the electricity-to-cooling action of refrigerators, all processes squander energy. They vent that waste in the form of heat. It's a law of thermodynamics, and no one has ever witnessed a sustained violation of it.

On the minute scales of cells and molecules, however, brief reversals of the usual rules routinely occur. Tiny mechanisms run in reverse or draw their power from random, normally untappable thermal motion in the surroundings. Such small systems, on average, still obey thermodynamics laws, although some theorists predict that certain quantum structures may not (SN: 10/7/00, p. 234: Now, researchers in Australia report that they have experimentally confirmed a theory that enables them to predict how often and under what circumstances reversals will dominate the behavior of a classical tiny system.

The new observations could become a reality check

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