PerspectiveStatistical Mechanics

Far from Equilibrium

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Science  07 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5574, pp. 1813-1815
DOI: 10.1126/science.1073595

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Knowledge of the statistical properties of chemical systems at equilibrium can be very helpful for understanding their behavior. However, much of the world surrounding us is not in equilibrium. In his Perspective, Egolf explains how equilibrium properties, such as free energies, can nevertheless be determined based on nonequilibrium data. He highlights the report by Liphardt et al., who show experimentally that by measuring the work required to unfold an RNA molecule repeatedly as a function of its extension, the free energy of unfolding can be determined.