October 12, 2020
Why Thomson and Maxwell Didn’t Like the Way Faraday “Spoke” About Physics

After Einstein published his special theory of relativity in 1905, fields and field phenomena forcefully entered the twentieth-century mainstream. However, as Kieran Murphy has recently argued, Einstein’s rise to prominence obscured our treatment of nineteenth-century conceptualizations of electromagnetic fields in science (and in literature). We owe to Michael Faraday much of the massive imaginative leap from Newtonian physics to field theory.

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September 30, 2020
Maxwell’s Demon: A Tale of Two Entropies (Part 2 of 2)

o far in this series, we have discussed how Maxwell’s Demon emerged in 1867 as a thought experiment designed to reveal the statistical nature of the second law of thermodynamics. If you’re new to this thread, be sure to check out the historical background and politics of Maxwell’s Demon in Part I. Part II takes us to the Information Age, where the question of entropy reframes Maxwell’s Demon for a different set of cultural concerns. Therefore, I want to begin Part II of “A Tale of Two Entropies” by hopping forward roughly a century to 1965, when Thomas Pynchon published his short novel, The Crying of Lot 49. By that time, both entropies had circulated in the public imagination such that Pynchon could satire the Demon holding them together.

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September 25, 2020
Maxwell’s Demon: A Tale of Two Entropies (Part 1 of 2)

Update: Check out Part 2 of this series here Even if you don’t know what it is, you have probably heard of “Maxwell’s Demon.” Like Schrödinger’s Cat, Maxwell’s Demon circulates in the cultural imagination more potently than the actual thought experiment it originally signified. The brainchild of James Clerk Maxwell in 1867, what we call […]

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September 14, 2020
What Came First: Thermodynamics or the Steam Engine?

There is a short answer and a long answer to this question. The short answer is simple: the steam engine predates thermodynamics. But the long answer is much more interesting when we consider the cultural and industrial variables at play during the birth of energy science. Simply, the steam engine predates thermodynamics by over a […]

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August 30, 2020
The Trouble with Defining Energy

“Energy was not out there in the world waiting to be found, a fact of nature finally revealed to human consciousness” Cara Daggett; The Birth of Energy When I want to draw out the capaciousness of the term, energy, I ask my students to turn to one another and define it. What is energy? If […]

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