iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Play now 45 mins

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 16 December 2004

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.

Broadcasts

Featured in...

  • 20th Century

    Browse the 20th Century era within the In Our Time archive.

  • 19th Century

    Browse the 19th Century era within the In Our Time archive.

  • Science archive

    Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

In Our Time Downloads

melvyn-bragg.jpg

Every episode of In Our Time - available to download to listen to when & where you want.

Free downloads

  1. Image for In Our Time Archive: Culture

    In Our Time Archive: Culture

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas as it applies to culture - from literature…

  2. Image for In Our Time Archive: History

    In Our Time Archive: History

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the people, conflicts and events that have shaped the world.

  3. Image for In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    In Our Time Archive: Philosophy

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of philosophy - from ancient Greek thinkers to the…

  4. Image for In Our Time Archive: Religion

    In Our Time Archive: Religion

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of religious ideas - from the faith systems of…

  5. Image for In Our Time Archive: Science

    In Our Time Archive: Science

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas and the evolution of the sciences - from…

  6. Image for In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg

    Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of ideas - including topics drawn from philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.