Monday, July 1, 2013

Dr. Faulkner: Entropy

And now for a lesson in thermodynamics.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the Law of Increased Entropy.  It states that the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time.  Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system.  So in short, left alone the matter and energy of a system will tend to become more disordered. 

When I taught about entropy in my classes I used two examples.  The first example was the bedroom of a teenager.  Left alone most teenagers’ rooms become more and more disordered until it approaches some level of chaos.  Energy must be expended to restore or just to maintain order. 

My second example was a bit more practical because it involved an automobile.  Left alone your car (a system) will deteriorate and become more disordered.  Tires will rot.  Metal will rust.  Plastic will become brittle and break.  Moving parts will bind.  To prevent this from happening, we expend energy.  We wash and wax the metal.  We apply protecting chemicals on the tires and plastic.  We lubricate the moving parts.

Even with our best efforts we can only postpone entropy.  If you have been in my office, you may have noticed a bumper sticker on one of my bookcases.  I received it from a former student and it says, “Entropy Happens.”

The application of the Second Law to our work world is that we can never stop investing energy.  Even our best efforts will deteriorate if we aren’t vigilant.  Procedures will be more disorderly if we don’t constantly monitor them and make changes i.e. invest energy.  Programs need to be constantly updated.  We can never rest on our laurels.

So the next time we think we have solved all the problems or we think we have a perfect policy in place or a highly efficient procedure, just remember – entropy happens.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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