Mysteries of Energy Focusing Phenomena
We study the fate of energy that is injected into a system so as to push it far from equilibrium.
A sound wave passing through a fluid can create a bubble that pulsates so strongly that it becomes a dense plasma that emits flashes of light only trillionths of a second long. When “Scotch” tape is peeled from its roll in a dark closet, a mysterious glow can be seen. Somehow the force of peeling a complex network of polymers generates a charge separation, which then organizes to create a discharge and emit photons with energies that can extend into the x-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. When a ferroelectric crystal such as Lithium Niobate is heated, the ions move ever so slightly relative to their electron clouds to create massive electric fields that are capable of generating nuclear fusion in a system the size of a walnut.
In these off-equilibrium systems, nonlinear processes dominate the motion. Although entropy always increases in all these phenomena, the second law of thermodynamics gives little guidance in understanding how they work.
As you marvel at the wide range of phenomena on this web page, please wonder whether there is a new guiding principle which explains why so many different off-equilibrium systems like to concentrate energy density. The limits of energy focusing that can be achieved off-equilibrium are not known. Can a similar multi-scale system someday be used as a fusion reactor?
The frontiers of physics are all around us. G.E. Uhlenbeck