Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Short Treatise on Thermodynamics

I wrote this little paper for the biology class that I took over the summer as a pre-requisite for my upcoming masters' program. Dan suggested that I post it on my blog. Why not?

The first two laws of thermodynamics address the constant amount of energy available in the universe, or, otherwise stated, the amount of energy in a closed system. The First law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, or that the amount of energy in a closed system is constant, even if you change energy from one form to another. To test this law, set up a track on a ramp with a motion sensor at the top and place a cart with a velocity meter at the top of the ramp. The cart will bounce up and down along the track, decreasing in its “bounce height” each time. The velocity will decrease with each bounce, and the specialized motion sensor at the top of the ramp track will detect an increase in vibrations in the track, measuring the potential energy. At the end of the experiment when the cart has come to a complete stop, you can calculate that, even though kinetic energy was lost, potential energy was increased, and the amount of energy in this closed system was therefore conserved.

Scientists have had inklings of this law from the times of the ancient Greeks, but it was Julius Robert von Mayer of Germany who concerned himself with it enough to publish a paper on it in 1841. Growing up in a town that depended on water power, he endeavored to build a water wheel that incorporated an Archimedean screw to pump the water back up to the top of the wheel, negating the necessity of the river as a source of power…or so he thought. He discovered that, no matter what he did, running the water wheel always relied on an input of power. He concluded that no work can be done for free. With a strong backbone from the Antoine Lavoiser’s 1775 Law of Conservation of Mass (matter can neither be created nor destroyed) and to test what happened to the lost mechanical energy, Mayer devised a series of experiments where pistons were mechanically raised by gasses that had been activated by fixed levels of heat. He calculated that chemical energy was converted to mechanical energy, and that the work gave off a measurable, definite quantity of heat. Despite the loss of mechanical and chemical energy, heat was released, conserving the total amount of energy in the closed system. He termed his conclusions the Law of Conservation of Energy, stating that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

A natural progression of the first law, the second law of thermodynamics is concerned with what happens to energy every time it is converted from one form to another (e.g. matter to chemical, mechanical to heat). Energy flows from higher, more organized states to less organized states; in other words, every time energy is converted, some will be lost in the form of heat. Since heat cannot be converted to any other form of energy, everything will eventually disassemble into heat through a process called “entropy.” Scientists from Lord Kelvin to Albert Einstein have worked with the implications of this law, and a good example of it is that no energy transfer system is 100% efficient and always results in the release of heat. Cars lose energy in heat, as do all living things.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Valentine's Day

Dan and I had the strangest experience the other day.

For Valentine's Day, we have a tradition of going to the Bombay Club Indian restaurant for their Valentine's Day extravaganza where they do a once-a-year gala and pull out all the stops -- a tremendously indulgent experience that we look forward to every year. Last year, we enjoyed their new digs in the South End, even if we missed the romantic location in Harvard Square.

Having made reservations on Open Table a couple of weeks prior (a necessity given the high demand of this event), Dan and I got a little primmed up and hopped on the Orange line to the Back Bay T stop where we would then walk the mile out to their South End location on Washington Street. The South End carries its own romance and made a lovely pallet for a pre-dinner stroll. Thanks, The Gays!

We rounded the corner of Washington Street, pausing to admire the display and bustle of Foodies Market, and arrived at the Bombay Club. Except that the windows were dark. Really dark. And then we noticed the imposing "FOR SALE" signs all over the windows. "Is this the right address?" "This is where it was, right?" "Well, yeah...It still says 'Bombay Club' above the door." After inspecting all the posters on the off chance that there was a helpful "WE'VE MOVED!" sign -- of which there were none -- we made an about face and walked back to the train station.

A local chocolaterie on Dartmouth Street let us in and sold us delicious chocolate truffles of lavender, homemade marzipan, and sesame caramel while we parleyed with its proprietor about the strange experience. "We got a reservation confirmation and everything. It just seems a little odd," I puzzled. The proprietor, a bubbly and nurturing woman with curly hair and a flair for life, copuzzled, "Isn't that strange?! Just the other day, I was talking with a girl who tended bar there when it was still the Pho Pasteur. Just this past Sunday, she said she thought the Bombay Club might close. Something about trouble with the lease. Wow. That was fast! That's how it is with restaurants; they can close just like that! Here one day, gone the next." One of her friends in the tiny room chimed, "They closed their stand in Faneuil Hall, too." Noooooooooo!!!

In the end, Dan and I went back to JP after our romantic stroll and tasty chocolates in the South End. We were greeted with a warm reception at the Ghazal, where we grab Indian food every other week or so. They know us there, and they were pleased to see us. Similarly, it did us good to see our favorite neighborhood Indian spot doing such brisk business. We had a lovely meal and we made attempts to order things that we don't ordinarily get so it would still feel special.

It wasn't the same, but nothing stays forever. We'd been going to the Bombay Club for special occasions for years and it had become a staple in the corner of many important memories. Valentine's Day was the typical cause, but we also went there the evening that Dan proposed to me. Further, it is the first Indian restaurant where Dan had eaten -- and only at the behest of an Indian friend of his, who has since passed away. The idea that a vessel of our traditions was so fragile and broken swiftly was cause of great disorientation and sadness. We're happy that we have the Ghazal, our favorite neighborhood Indian restaurant, but we will sadly miss the Bombay Club, its wonderful staff, food, and memories.