Single Loop Roller Coaster

Oh, I don’t feel so good1.

Peter Griffin

Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.

Dave Barry


I know that in cartoons the laws of physics are different2, but none of O’Donnell’s laws of cartoon motion seem to apply and there are a few things in this little clip that suggest the makers actually thought about this problem so I decided to find out if it is possible for Peter to be at the right place at the right time to catch his own puke. 

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Carnot Cycle for the Photon Gas

Light is something like raindrops. Each little lump of light is called a photon and if the light is all one color, all the “raindrops” are the same.

R.P. Feynman.



The photon gas, a box filled with little light lumps, plays a very important role in physics. As a source of black body radiation — collect the photons coming from a small hole in the box and sort them by energy — it put Planck on the road to quantum mechanics, and although his hope that electromagnetic radiation was the origin of irreversibility did not work out as he intended, it is well worth studying this idea.  Here, however, I investigate the photon gas as a medium for a Carnot engine.

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Entropy 1

Prospects are good for laboratory construction and testing of this solid state Maxwell demon in the near future.

D. Sheehan1 (2002).




Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it, but by that time you are so used to it, it doesn’t bother you any more.

This quote by Arnold Sommerfeld summarizes my state of mind from the moment I had taught thermodynamics for the third or fourth time. I could do all the exercises and answer almost all student questions (for them it was the first time, so it did not matter what the answer was anyway), but now that I don’t have to do this any more my lack of  understanding does bother me. So I did the stupidest thing you can do: go back to the original literature, Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, by S. Carnot. Read more

Apparent Paradox?

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Douglas Adams



In 2001 Bartell published a paper [1] in which he posed, among others, the following question:


Suppose \(N\) photons of frequency \(\nu\) are emitted by a laser aimed at a stationary black body. The black body absorbs the energy \(nh\nu\) and converts it to thermal energy (heat). Compare this with the energy \(N h\nu’\) absorbed if the black body is moving away from the source. By the Doppler effect, \(\nu’\) is less than \(\nu\) and consequently the absorber sees and absorbs photons of lower energy than emitted by the laser. Where did the extra energy go? The answer to this simple question eludes many physical chemistry professors. It does, however, yield some important results

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