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Author Topic: Negative temps and machines "more than 100% efficient" - 4 Jan 2013 in Science  (Read 3540 times)
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The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Science

Science gets colder than absolute zero

By Charles Choi

Published January 04, 2013



    When an object is heated, its atoms can move with different levels of energy, from low to high. With positive temperatures (blue), atoms more likely occupy low-energy states than high-energy states, while the opposite is true for negative temperatures (red). (LMU / MPQ Munich)

Absolute zero is often thought to be the coldest temperature possible. But now researchers show they can achieve even lower temperatures for a strange realm of "negative temperatures."

Oddly, another way to look at these negative temperatures is to consider them hotter than infinity, researchers added.

This unusual advance could lead to new engines that could technically be more than 100 percent efficient, and shed light on mysteries such as dark energy, the mysterious substance that is apparently pulling our universe apart.

An object's temperature is a measure of how much its atoms move — the colder an object is, the slower the atoms are. At the physically impossible-to-reach temperature of zero kelvin, or minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 273.15 degrees Celsius), atoms would stop moving. As such, nothing can be colder than absolute zero on the Kelvin scale.

Bizarro negative temperatures

To comprehend the negative temperatures scientists have now devised, one might think of temperature as existing on a scale that is actually a loop, not linear. Positive temperatures make up one part of the loop, while negative temperatures make up the other part. When temperatures go either below zero or above infinity on the positive region of this scale, they end up in negative territory. [What's That? Your Basic Physics Questions Answered]

    'The temperature scale simply does not end at infinity, but jumps to negative values instead.'

- Ulrich Schneider, a physicist at the University of Munich in Germany

With positive temperatures, atoms more likely occupy low-energy states than high-energy states, a pattern known as Boltzmann distribution in physics. When an object is heated, its atoms can reach higher energy levels.

At absolute zero, atoms would occupy the lowest energy state. At an infinite temperature, atoms would occupy all energy states. Negative temperatures then are the opposite of positive temperatures — atoms more likely occupy high-energy states than low-energy states.

"The inverted Boltzmann distribution is the hallmark of negative absolute temperature, and this is what we have achieved," said researcher Ulrich Schneider, a physicist at the University of Munich in Germany. "Yet the gas is not colder than zero kelvin, but hotter. It is even hotter than at any positive temperature — the temperature scale simply does not end at infinity, but jumps to negative values instead."

As one might expect, objects with negative temperatures behave in very odd ways. For instance, energy typically flows from objects with a higher positive temperature to ones with a lower positive temperature — that is, hotter objects heat up cooler objects, and colder objects cool down hotter ones, until they reach a common temperature. However, energy will always flow from objects with negative temperature to ones with positive temperatures. In this sense, objects with negative temperatures are always hotter than ones with positive temperatures.

Another odd consequence of negative temperatures has to do with entropy, which is a measure of how disorderly a system is. When objects with positive temperature release energy, they increase the entropy of things around them, making them behave more chaotically. However, when objects with negative temperatures release energy, they can actually absorb entropy.

Negative temperatures would be thought impossible, since there is typically no upper bound for how much energy atoms can have, as far as theory currently suggests. (There is a limit to what speed they can travel — according to Einstein's theory of relativity, nothing can accelerate to speeds faster than light.)

Wacky physics experiment

To generate negative temperatures, scientists created a system where atoms do have a limit to how much energy they can possess. They first cooled about 100,000 atoms to a positive temperature of a few nanokelvin, or billionth of a kelvin. They cooled the atoms within a vacuum chamber, which  isolated them from any environmental influence that could potentially heat them up accidentally. They also used a web of laser beams and magnetic fields to very precisely control how these atoms behaved, helping to push them into a new temperature realm. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Findings]

"The temperatures we achieved are negative nanokelvin," Schneider told LiveScience.

Temperature depends on how much atoms move — how much kinetic energy they have. The web of laser beams created a perfectly ordered array of millions of bright spots of light, and in this "optical lattice," atoms could still move, but their kinetic energy was limited.

Temperature also depends on how much potential energy atoms have, and how much energy lies in the interactions between the atoms. The researchers used the optical lattice to limit how much potential energy the atoms had, and they used magnetic fields to very finely control the interactions between atoms, making them either attractive or repulsive.

Temperature is linked with pressure — the hotter something is, the more it expands outward, and the colder something is, the more it contracts inward. To make sure this gas had a negative temperature, the researchers had to give it a negative pressure as well, tinkering with the interactions between atoms until they attracted each other more than they repelled each other.

"We have created the first negative absolute temperature state for moving particles," said researcher Simon Braun at the University of Munich in Germany.

New kinds of engines

Negative temperatures could be used to create heat engines — engines that convert heat energy to mechanical work, such as combustion engines — that are more than 100-percent efficient, something seemingly impossible. Such engines would essentially not only absorb energy from hotter substances, but also colder ones. As such, the work the engine performed could be larger than the energy taken from the hotter substance alone.

Negative temperatures might also help shed light on one of the greatest mysteries in science. Scientists had expected the gravitational pull of matter to slow down the universe's expansion after the Big Bang, eventually bringing it to a dead stop or even reversing it for a "Big Crunch." However, the universe's expansion is apparently speeding up, accelerated growth that cosmologists suggest may be due to dark energy, an as-yet-unknown substance that could make up more than 70 percent of the cosmos.

In much the same way, the negative pressure of the cold gas the researchers created should make it collapse. However, its negative temperature keeps it from doing so. As such, negative temperatures might have interesting parallels with dark energy that may help scientists understand this enigma.

Negative temperatures could also shed light on exotic states of matter, generating systems that normally might not be stable without them. "A better understanding of temperature could lead to new things we haven't even thought of yet," Schneider said. "When you study the basics very thoroughly, you never know where it may end."

The scientists detailed their findings in the Jan. 4 issue of the journal Science

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/01/04/science-gets-colder-than-absolute-zero/#ixzz2HFlE6gPP
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  The data were  published several days ago in one of the premier journals of science.  This is not mere conjecture/theory -- but experimental evidence. 

But one has to come to grips with ENTROPY, and with new experimental data to appreciate this advancement in our understanding.

Perhaps this explanation from the journal New Scientist will help:

Cloud of atoms goes beyond absolute zero

    19:00 03 January 2013 by Jacob Aron

Nothing is colder than absolute zero, so it seems nonsensical to talk about negative temperature – but now there is a substance that must have just that. The revelation could shake up our ideas about temperature and help us understand strange entities such as dark energy, as well as the interactions of subatomic particles.

Although we're used to talking about negative temperatures, such as −10°C, all temperatures on an ordinary thermometer are actually positive when measured in kelvin, the scientific temperature scale that starts at absolute zero (−273.15°C).

On the kelvin scale, temperature is determined by the kinetic energy of particles, so a gas of slow particles is colder than a gas of fast-moving ones. Absolute zero corresponds to the point at which particles stop moving completely, which is why nothing can be colder.

That does not tell the whole story, however. Temperature also depends on the way in which the particle energies are distributed within the gas, which determines their entropy, or disorder.
Energy landscape

Above absolute zero, adding more energy corresponds to an increase in entropy. Picture a hill next to a valley (see image) with the height of the landscape corresponding to the energy of a particle – and the chance of finding a particle at a certain height representing entropy. At absolute zero, particles are motionless and all have no energy so are all at the bottom of the valley, giving a minimum entropy.

As the gas heats up, the average energy of the particles increases, with some gaining lots of extra energy but most just a small amount. Spread along the side of the hill, now the particles have different energies, so entropy is higher.

According to temperature's entropic definition, the highest positive temperature possible corresponds to the most disordered state of the system. This would be an equal number of particles at every point on the landscape. Increase the energy any further and you'd start to lower the entropy again, because the particles wouldn't be evenly spread. As a result, this point represents the end of the positive temperature scale.

In principle, though, it should be possible to keep heating the particles up, while driving their entropy down. Because this breaks the energy-entropy correlation, it marks the start of the negative temperature scale, where the distribution of energies is reversed – instead of most particles having a low energy and a few having a high, most have a high energy and just a few have a low energy. The end of this negative scale is reached when all particles are at the top of the energy hill.

The resulting thermometer is mind-bending with a scale that starts at zero, ramps up to plus infinity, then jumps to minus infinity before increasing through the negative numbers until it reaches negative absolute zero, which corresponds to all particles sitting at the top of the energy hill.
Cold atoms

"The temperature scale as we know it starts at zero and goes up to infinity, but it doesn't stop there," says Ulrich Schneider of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany.

To enter the negative realm, Schneider and his colleagues began by cooling atoms to a fraction above absolute zero and placing them in a vacuum. They then used lasers to place the atoms along the curve of an energy valley with the majority of the atoms in lower energy states. The atoms were also made to repel each other to ensure they remained fixed in place.

Schneider's team then turned this positive temperature system negative by doing two things. They made the atoms attract and adjusted the lasers to change the atoms' energy levels, making the majority of them high-energy, and so flipping the valley into an energy hill. The result was an inverse energy distribution, which is characteristic of negative temperatures.

The atoms can't lose energy and "roll down" this hill because doing so would require them to increase their kinetic energy and this is not possible because the system is in a vacuum and there is no outside energy source. "We create a system with a lot of energy, but the particles cannot redistribute their energy so they have to stay on top of the hill," says Schneider.
Dark temperature

Cold atoms are already used to simulate the interactions of some subatomic particles. The new negative temperature set-up could be used to create simulated interactions that are not possible with positive temperatures. "They are a new technical tool in the business of quantum simulations," says Schneider.

Negative temperature may also have implications for cosmology. Dark energy, thought to explain the accelerating expansion of the universe, exerts negative pressure, which suggests it might have negative temperature – Schneider is currently discussing the idea with cosmologists.

"It is amazing experimental work," says Allard Mosk of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, who originally outlined the theory behind the experiment in 2005.

Learning more about how negative temperature systems interact both with themselves and with positive temperatures might allow us to build ultra-efficient heat engines, but these are far off, he says. "I don't think this will immediately give us new devices, but it will give us a deeper understanding about what temperature really is."

Journal reference: Science, 10.1126/science.1227831
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