Coffee and entropy

Antony Hall - Coffee Cup Vortex 2001

Antony Hall – Coffee Cup Vortex 2001

Entropy is a measure of disorder with in a system. The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy within a closed system must always increase. The concept has been applied to many systems, Art, economics [information] as well as physics. The materials and systems that I work with are on the cusp of falling into total disorder, in order to avert this I have to pump energy into the system, literally. Coffee cup vortex for example, needed a continual input of kinetic energy to maintain the otherwise temporal vortex. It not only needs electrical energy, but also freshly made coffee, [to avoid it going moldy and things making a home inside it] A cup of coffee is the classic ‘system’ that is used to explain the concept of entropy.  “If we let the cup of coffee sit on the table long enough, say 30 minutes, what happens? It gets cold. The heat energy that we paid for is no longer concentrated in the cup. It still exists, but in the room not in the cup. This is a gain in entropy. If we let the cup of coffee sit there long enough, say 4 days, we notice that some of the water that we paid for has evaporated. It still exists as water vapour in the room (probably attacking the wallpaper) but not in the cup. This too, is a gain in entropy.” “…imagine a whole lot of molecules arranged to form a coffee cup filled with hot coffee. Imagine again, that another collection of molecules arranged to form a hand happen to have been given a velocity that sends them on a collision course with the coffee cup. The two molecular assemblies meet. The force of the collision is great enough to propel the cup toward the edge of the table on which it’s resting, but not great enough to cause either the hand or the cup to disintegrate. The molecules in the hand, the cup, and the table are given a bit of a jostle; the bonds between in the cup and the table are insufficient to stop its progress; and the cup slides off the edge…” 

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