Children and The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and Chaos Reign

I’ll begin with the fact that we have a toddler and a baby. Kids, like to live their lives and be happy. This includes use of their toys. In this respect, Kat and I are like an accordion. I’ll explain this, hopefully in a scientific but comical way.

Before I continue, I must define some concepts and several terms:

Concept 1: Energy

To begin, Energy is the property of matter that enables for work to be done. Energy can exist in many forms: (1) Chemical, (2) Electric, (3) Gravitational, (4) Mechanical, (5) Magnetic, (6) Thermal, (7) Sound, (8) Radiant and (9) Nuclear. There are more, but for now I think these are sufficient. We use many of these forms of energy every day. We are alive so we use chemical energy (from food) to ATP energy that our bodies then use to perform microscopic (cells) and macroscopic (the human body) work.

Kids have lots and lots of energy. They really never seem to get tired – except when they actually do get tired and are asleep in the evening. As adults, because we are pulled in so many directions, and combined with the fact that we are getting older, means that we have less of this energy – usually because it IS spent chasing our kids around; pretending to play drive through; making make-shift tents and did I say playing; lots and lots of playing. I also must include middle of the night wake up calls for poopie, throwing up and just well general maintenance of our kids in the middle of the night. This extra expenditure of energy ensures even less energy for the next day. This is not a complaint of any type merely an observation.

Concept 2: Matter Always Approaches the Ground State (the most stable and lowest state of energy)

Fundamentally, matter goes toward the most stable state with the lowest state of energy for a system. To understand this, we just need to remember the RoadRunner vs Wile Coyote.  Gravity is the force that pulls us towards the Earth, and keeps the Earth revolving around the Sun.

On Earth, the “ground state” or lowest form of gravitational potential is literally on the ground. So if you imagine a ball at the top of 45 degree angle sloped hill (where it has the highest gravitational potential energy), it will naturally want to be closer to the ground and will roll until it reaches this lowest state of energy.

In general, toddlers seem to maintain a high energy state until about 8-8:30pm. However, this general statement does not apply to all toddlers. The same may hold true for babies – as our little girl tends to sleep even less then he does. But I digress. Even after all of the game playing, eating and other activities our kids do tend towards this lowest energy state. And at that point so do both of us. But the work of a parent never really ends even after kids go to sleep. Preparations must begin for the next day. Meals are planned out; dishes must be cleaned; clothes must be washed; general housekeeping must be done. (I’ll get back to this one.)

Concept 3: Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is “the branch of physical science that deals with the relations between heat and other forms of energy (such as mechanical, electrical, or chemical energy), and, by extension, of the relationships between all forms of energy.” Thermodynamics is the study of the movement of thermal energy.

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but that it can be converted from one form to another, or transferred from one place to another. There are many examples of this and one clear one is gasoline. Gasoline is a fossil fuel and during the process of combustion it is converted to heat and mechanical energy – enabling cars to move.

Now I must define entropy. In the simplest of terms entropy can be thought of a state of matter where the energy spread is the highest. Let’s use the chemical H2O (water). Water has three states of matter: solid (ice – lowest energy spread; most order; least entropy), liquid (water – middle energy spread; middle order; middle entropy) and gas (steam – highest energy spread; least order; most entropy). Ice melts, because it has a higher energy spread (more stability).  Thus water has more entropy then ice, and steam even more entropy than water. An even simpler way to look at this (but an analogy that is not exactly correct) is entropy is a measure of “disorder.” The more disorder a system has, the greater the entropy.

 The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states “for all spontaneous processes, the total entropy always increases and the process is irreversible.” If we were to reverse entropy, this would then require energy. Let’s use the freezer in the refrigerator example. Ice, at room temperature, melts because it is a lower state of energy and greater entropy. However, if we use energy to power our refrigerator to create a cooling environment, and put water back in, the water will freeze. This decrease in entropy requires energy though.

Entropy and Children

I remember the many days in the past when I have gotten ready to leave for lab. My son kisses me and grabs a box of toys and literally began his day by throwing his toys on the floor. This really happens every day. Now that we have two little balls of energy, and they both want to play with toys, as time increases during the day, so does the general “entropy” of our home. The kids move from room to room, moving things out of boxes and shelves to play with them. This is perfectly normal both in their behavior and in the general sense of the universe increasing in entropy. I am always amazed that they have all of those toys! However, the kids do have fun. Kat and I, however, behave like an accordion – each day cleaning up and putting things in their place. Again, that also relates back to how decreasing entropy requires energy – our energy! Anyway, I’m sure there are many parents who do the same. Thank you for reading. Until next time. Same bat time. Same bat channel. Live long and prosper.

To learn a bit more about entropy watch this video.

-The Husband

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