Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Here's a questions for anyone science-minded out there:
Things can be cooled down to an absolute zero, when all movement stops at the molecular level. Is there an equivalent with heat? A maximum molecular speed? Is this the speed of light? Does the speed of light apply on a molecular level? I can't even think of anything funny to write here. I'm just really wondering.


JAAndersland said...

Actually absolute zero is purely theoretical. No one has reached it yet. They have however gotten really close. I know for sure 4 kelvin, maybe even closer like 2 kelvin.
As far as a maximum molecular heat I don't think there is.
The speed of light is something different all together. When talking about heat or absence of heat (since cold really just means the absence of heat) you are talking about random motions/vibrations at the atomic/molecular level. The speed of light on the other hand is a measure of velocity or the distance something travels over time (interesting tidbit: velocity is a vector quantity, meaning it is directional where as speed is scalar meaning direction is not important). So in conclusion heat is random vibrations/movements and speed of light is a measure of velocity. Two pretty unrelated things. Thanks for reading this boring lecture. :)

Matthew B. Novak said...

While I understand how heat and velocity are two very different measurements, I had always assumed that the velocity at which that molecular movement happened had some relation to the heat which was put out. If the molecules are moving at a higher velocity there would be more heat, right? I guess this was the major premise of my hypothesis that there could be a maximum heat. The speed at which molecules move determines heat. The highest speed anything can reach is the speed of light. Putting those two together, it would follow that if there is a highest possible speed there would be a theoretical highest heat. But if the SPEED of the molecules moving/vibrating doesn't have an effect on heat then that whole premise is wrong, and so is the hypothesis.

On a follow up, what is it about the moving/vibrating that affects heat? The number of molecules moving at a given time?

Kendrick Novak said...

Joshua, I enjoyed the lecture. Thank you.

JAAndersland said...

Ok your second post makes more sence to me. So I had a long discussion about the question with a friend of mine (physics major). And he said that he thought that the maximal temperature would be close to the point at which atoms where moving close to the speed of light. But said that atoms and basically anything with any mass to it can never obtain the speed of light. Because as you approach the speed of light you become more "massive" and thus requiring more energy etc to move faster. So in short there is a maximal temperature. What that is, don't really know. Is there a point to this or just pondering the imponderable?
As a side note when going through my old textbook on this definitions are insanely important. Which kind of reminds me of what someone once told me, "to win an arguement, just define the terms and thus the rules for winning." For instance I had to look up heat, temperature, absolute zero (kelvin scale), entropy, etc etc. So in short it's a lot of work for a non-physicist for a semi trivial question. But yes there is a maximal temperature. And heat is not the same as temperature by definition, heat is the transferance of energy. And temperature is a function of entropy and along with other factors. Interestingly the definition of absolute zero is the point at which a constant volume gas reaches zero pressure. Ok I've started to ramble so I'll stop. :)
Let me know if that answered your question or not or confused as I am. :)

Kendrick Novak said...

Holy crap, I knew/know most of that. Scary. But that entropy stuff is weird happenings. It's crazy to think that you can potentially reach a maximal speed though.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I understood most of that too. Physics I was always a little better at than biology. The whole nothing with any mass actually reaching the speed of light thing makes sense too. Though on a molecular level, aren't there actually particles that have no mass? Or isn't there at least a theory that says there are particles with no mass?
And entropy is weird stuff. The very little I know about it... doesn't that essentially have to do with the stagnation of energy? I don't remember too much.

But thanks for putting the time into finding out - it was just a random sort of question, but one I was really interested in.

JAAndersland said...

Entropy in a nutshell is the disorder or randomness of a system. And light obviously travels at the speed of light. And for that matter any other form of light/energy i.e. uv, electromagnetic, infrared etc etc. And of course anti-matter would be able to travel at the speed of light.

If it wasn't for all the math involved in physics I would've went into quantum physics. I just love the stuff. Some really weird stuff happens to helium when it's at 4 kelvin. And then there is the whole schroedinger's cat theory. Good stuff. :)

And this is me in a nutshell.... look I'm in a nutshell :)

dyk said...

If I understand correctly, applying heat to matter is essentially adding to the amount of energy that matter contains. When you start adding heat to certain molecules, they begin to lose electrons. I imagine you could eventually break down most substances similarly. Once you get to an atomic level, I'm not sure what kind of heat you would need though we know they can split certain atoms already. The question would be what happens when you get down to a single proton, neutron, electron, etc. There is a known fourth state of matter, plasma, but I don't know much about that. I'd imagine that you're getting into the realm of the theory of relativity and the conversion of matter to energy. Hmm, not really funny. Sorry.

Nate said...

I dont think there is a maximal temperature becasue in order to accelerate mass to the speed of light requires infinity energy which would corrospond to infinity heat. Once again the whole definitions of terms applies to this argument. Notice also that the highest temperatures that are known to exist reside in stars where all forms of radiation that travels at light speed are released during nuclear fusion. What does this mean in regards to your question? I dont know.