Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Diamonds to Dust and Beyond - Entropic Doomsday

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is very important scientific explanation for the behavior of both large and small molecular systems, in particular, the energy change and disorder that occurs in the system with time. According to the Law, all molecular systems will eventually degrade to maximum disorder (entropy). The entire universe will eventually achieve this condition at some distant time the cosmologists call “Entropic Doomsday”. The stars will all burnout, energy will be very diffuse and scattered, all matter will be reduced to simple atomic and molecular particles and there will be no life as we know it unless we can develop a system by which we can reverse the second law. Most physicists agree that it is impossible to reverse the second law. New generations of physicist/theologians believe that it would require theological intervention or a miracle. It is however possible to slow down the inevitable decay with constraints on the energy flowing into and out of large molecular systems. We humans are large macromolecular systems that generally follow the second law during our birth - life and — death cycle. Apparently our evolution was the result of islands of molecular order which slowly established themselves within the disorder by feeding off the ebbing and flowing of energy with the arrow of time. A thunderstorm developing out of an apparently calm, clear, orderly day is an example of this phenomenon, even though it is a short-lived event compared to most evolutionary trends which become inherent in the organism if they contribute to the survival of the species over a very long period for most organisms. New traits have actually been shown to occur in certain moth species in a measurable relatively short period of time as a defensive mechanism in the form of new coloration patterns evolving to protect themselves from predators. The moths seem to be in charge of their destiny by changing their colors at will. The actual fact is that the patterns are varied within the species and the ones which most closely matches the bark of the tree on which they land will blend into the predator’s field of vision and thus will survive to procreate and pass the new coloration genes to the offspring. This is Natural Selection at it’s fastest pace, and an exception to the general trend in animals. Bacteria do this at a very fast pace. When exposed to new antibiotics, they quickly develop resistance to them, partly because of the very large numbers in an exponentially increasing colony of bacteria and the fluctuating genetic pool which must quickly change in small numbers of them for them to be able to survive.
The Law clearly states the general trend is for molecular systems to decline with time. Organic evolution at first notice seems to defy this principle, but upon closer investigation, it has been shown that molecular systems can develop from simple molecules to more complex macromolecular systems to multi cellular organisms in a relatively short period of time if the available pool of energy is flowing into the system in its temporary more ordered molecular island state in the sea of disorder. Once the organism is given birth and grows, the second law begins to overcome and the slow aging process begins to take effect. If we could find a way to reverse the Law we could in fact slow down the aging process and live longer lives if not become immortal. Modem medical practices such as gene replacement and cloning of more genetically perfect organisms are attempts to slow down the disorder introduced when cells replicate themselves billions of times and are bombarded with environmental factors during growth.
According to relativity considerations matter and energy can be converted from one form to the other and therefore matter simply being a form of potential energy slowed down from the speed of light also conforms to the second law. Matter will become more diffuse and disordered with time and therefore this leads to the inevitable decay of all forms of matter over the millennia. An obvious example of this is the slow decay of diamonds to graphite. Diamonds are certainly not forever as the song might imply because the older diamonds are smokier and more grey due to the presence of graphite in the molecular structure. Younger diamonds tend to be more valuable because they’re more clear and stronger due to the absence of graphite. The more ordered crystalline molecular structure of diamond slowly breaks down and changes to the less crystalline, less perfect more disordered molecular graphite( pencil lead).Diamond and graphite are simply different molecular structures of the element carbon with a huge difference in price tag per gram. Zirconium oxide crystals (Zircons) would be a much better alternative economically for young couples getting married, and the zircons would outlast diamonds tenfold! Zircons could become the groom’s best friend?- sounds like a new version of the old tune Marilyn made famous. Marilyn would have left any man if given a zircon! The DeBeers monopoly on the diamond market has changed most women’s thinking forever. Who knows, possibly a future zircon monopoly and subsequent increase in price could establish zircons as the hallmark for engagement rings. Men don’t count on this anytime soon - social conventions don’t change easily with time. Logic and economics does not usually play a role in the feminine mystique of jewelry and the rite of marriage? - the bigger, the better! This analogy probably raises the question in the reader’s mind where I am headed with this diamond thing? See the next essay!

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