Time, Structure, and Fluctuations

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  01 Sep 1978:
Vol. 201, Issue 4358, pp. 777-785
DOI: 10.1126/science.201.4358.777


Fundamental conceptual problems that arise from the macroscopic and microscopic aspects of the second law of thermodynamics are considered. It is shown that nonequilibrium may become a source of order and that irreversible processes may lead to a new type of dynamic states of matter called "dissipative structures." The thermodynamic theory of such structures is outlined. A microscopic definition of irreversible processes is given, and a transformation theory is developed that allows one to introduce nonunitary equations of motion that explicitly display irreversibility and approach to thermodynamic equilibrium. The work of the group at the University of Brussels in these fields is briefly reviewed. In this new development of theoretical chemistry and physics, it is likely that thermodynamic concepts will play an ever-increasing role.