The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Listen in pop-out player

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Second Law of Thermodynamics which can be very simply stated like this: "Energy spontaneously tends to flow from being concentrated in one place to becoming diffused and spread out". It was first formulated – derived from ideas first put forward by Lord Kelvin - to explain how a steam engine worked, it can explain why a cup of tea goes cold if you don't drink it and how a pan of water can be heated to boil an egg.But its application has been found to be rather grander than this. The Second Law is now used to explain the big bang, the expansion of the cosmos and even suggests our inexorable passage through time towards the 'heat death' of the universe. It's been called the most fundamental law in all of science, and CP Snow in his Two Cultures wrote: "Not knowing the Second Law of Thermodynamics is like never having read a work of Shakespeare".What is the Second Law? What are its implications for time and energy in the universe, and does it tend to be refuted by the existence of life and the theory of evolution?With John Gribbin, Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex; Peter Atkins, Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University; Monica Grady, Head of Petrology and Meteoritics at the Natural History Museum.

Release date:

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Thu 16 Dec 2004 21:30

Related topics

Featured in...

Topics: an extra way to explore our archive

Topics: an extra way to explore our archive

How you helped us find a fresh way to discover our programmes.

Animal Farm quiz

Animal Farm

How well do you know Orwell's allegory on Stalin’s Russia?

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

Quiz: Where's Melvyn?

11562774-high-the-matter-of-the-north1920x1080.jpg

How many of these northern landmarks do you know?

Arts and Ideas podcast

Free Thinking

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.