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University of Mississippi

Second Law of Thermodynamics Topic for January Science Cafe

UM researchers Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer to discuss mysteries of entropy

JANUARY 24, 2018 BY EDWIN B. SMITH

UM chemistry and biochemistry professors Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer will share ‘Harrowing Tales of Entropy’ at the monthly Science Cafe Jan. 30. Submitted photo

UM chemistry and biochemistry professors Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer will share ‘Harrowing Tales of Entropy’ at the monthly Science Cafe Jan. 30. Submitted photo

The second law of thermodynamics is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s first meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Lusa Bakery Bistro and Bar, 1120 North Lamar Blvd. Randy Wadkins and Nathan Hammer, UM professors of chemistry and biochemistry, will discuss “Harrowing Tales of Entropy.” Admission is free.

The second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy, basically heat lost during a chemical or mechanical transformation, can never decrease in an isolated system, such as the universe. The second law puts a limit on the transformation of heat into work.

“Entropy is a mysterious phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since its discovery by Rudolph Clausius in the 1850s,” Wadkins said. “Did it drive Clausius mad? Perhaps. But it led to his development of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

“Nearly 200 years of scientists have struggled with this mind-blowing, senses-shattering physical phenomenon.”

Wadkins and Hammer’s 45-minute presentation will address several questions about the nature of entropy and how it affects everything.

“Found in refrigerators, automobiles and even our bodies, entropy will eventually destroy the universe,” Hammer said. “We can promise you one thing from this evening of thrills and sensations: you will never look at a snowflake the same way again.”

Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and astronomy and the forum’s organizer, said he expects a most interesting discussion.

“I’m eagerly waiting their presentation,” Cavaglia said. “Entropy has fascinated researchers for generations, so I’m sure the general public will be fascinated as well.”

Wadkins received his bachelor’s and doctoral degree from UM in 1986 and 1990, respectively. He held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institutes of Health, a Gesellschaft Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany, and a postdoctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

He also has been a science and technology policy fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015-16, sponsored by the Biophysical Society.

A member of the Ole Miss faculty since 1990, Wadkins’ research interests are biophysical chemistry, molecular dynamics, fluorescence microscopy and imaging, DNA structure and structural transitions, and biosensors.

Hammer received an honors bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in physical chemistry and chemical physics from the University of Tennessee in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University and an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Massachusetts.

He joined the UM faculty in 2007 and received tenure in 2013. He was honored as an Ole Miss Faculty Research Fellow in 2008 and received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in 2010 to spectroscopically track the evolution of noncovalent interactions from the single molecule level to the condensed phases.

Hammer also directs the NSF-funded Ole Miss Physical Chemistry Summer Research Program for Undergraduates.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to http://www.phy.olemiss.edu/oxfordsciencecafe. For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/physics_and_astronomy or call 662-915-7046.