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The Thermodynamic Sinks of this World by Roald Hoffman

Hal Harris's picture
Mon, 06/24/2013 - 16:29 -- Hal Harris

Nobelist Roald Hoffman usually chooses an intriguing topic for his regular contributions to the Sigma Xi bimonthly, American Scientist. For the current issue, he has chosen to examine the question, "What would be the result of mixing a collection of the elements we find on earth and its nearby environment and heating them up enough to encourage them to react?" This "Gedankenexperiment" must be performed with a few rules, such as the range of pressures and temperatures allowed, and the stoichiometry of the original mixture.  A few general principles get one to find the "downhill direction", leading to oxides, ionic salts and, to the extent that abundances allow, fluorides. Most people believe that the processes of life have been responsible for making our world one which has large and important non-equilibrium regimes.  Hoffman calculates that, if thermodynamics were the sole determinant of the result, it would be far different from the world we are fortunate to inhabit. 

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Hoffman, Roald, "The Thermodynamic Sinks of this World", American Scientist 2013 July-August,101(4) p. 260

Publication Date: 
Monday, June 24, 2013
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