My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« manga from the master | Main | candid camera »


Brillouin showed that the Demon needed to expend energy to sort the high energy to low energy molecules back in 1962, in this work:

Leon Brillouin, Science and Information Theory. 2nd ed (New York: Academic Press, 1962).

If you'll permit a couple of nit-picks:

1) "Laser Cooling" predates "optical molasses" by a few years-- people were using lasers to slow and cool beams of atoms by 1983. Granted, that's only 1-d cooling, but it's still cooling.

2) Steve Chu also got a Nobel Prize, in 1997, for the development of "optical molasses" and the magneto-optical trap. He shared it with Bill Phillips, who did a lot of the early beam-slowing experiments, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who did some important experiments and was also responsible for coming up with the theory to explain the anomalously low temperatures obtained in optical molasses.

Full disclosure: I was a grad student in Bill Phillips's group at NIST in 1997, when he won the Prize.

Isn't it interesting that Einstein was involved in a couple of aspects of refrigeration?


One of the closest things to Maxwell's Demon is the Hilsch Tube. It's a "T" of pipes. Compressed air goes in the stem of the T. The demon sits in the middle, hot air goes out one end and cold air out the other. The drawback is that it's inefficient, noisy, and very heard to fine-tune. But it has no moving parts, no electronics; you can make one in a home workshop. Commercial models can reach -30 F. The cold air side seems to be either the easiest to produce or the most-needed application, because all I find are coolers.

Well your comments about James Clerk Maxwell are interesting, and of course, since it's by you (smart lady!), exceptionally well expressed, but are wholly aligned with ORTHODOX theory. It's 100% PC.

What about the UNorthodox mystery of Nicola Tesla having powered a boat and an automobile without any inputs comprehensible to science? It's historical fact that Tesla actually rode around for a week in a car that had no physical engine, and no fuel, and that Tesla powered a boat on the ocean before many critical observers, again without any physical fuel.

Tesla's demonstrations violate Maxwell's second law of thermodynamics which you wrote about.

Academia has devised several standard "put downs" of Nikola Tesla which you can read in ee texts, (no regard for money, aberrant psychology, etc.) but the FACT remains that Tesla DID obtain useable power from outside the domain circumscribed by Maxwell, and from outside the realm of possible sources conprehended by modern physics.

So how about making some room in your writing for mystery, magic, the yet-to-be understood that sounds like magic and weirdness today but may be commonplaces by 2108?

Thank you for your wonderful "Cocktail Physics." It always engages me in the best way.

As Maxwell died in 1879, I suppose that his demon should qualify as the greatest thought experiment of the 19th century . He was only 49 when he passed away; had he run his alloted span goodness knows what else he might have discovered. Rather like Witten and string theory - doing 21st century physics in the 1980s - Maxwell was alone in doing twentieth century theoretical physics during the nineteenth. And he made regular contact with experiment too. A true hero.

Well it's quite bizarre that the cosmic computer mysteriously attributed my above post mentioning Tesla to some other person named "ZZMike!"

I believe you got the facts a bit askew about Ken Kesey's book Demon Box. All the pieces are by the author and no others. In the book is an article referring to Maxwell's Demon.

Oops, I meant to correct that. ONce I rifled through my books, I realized the mixup. "A Feast of Demons" can be found in THE FIFTH GALAXY READER edited by H.L Gold (1954) -- out of print, but you can still find it in some second-hand stores.

It's funny. I mistook "Maxwell's Demon" for "Descartes Demon" in his Meditations on First Philosophy where he reflects on the possibility of artificial realities.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.