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Statistical Physics and The Arrow of Life

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Maya Ben Yami.

The arrow of time’ is set by the second law of thermodynamics: entropy increases until a steady state of thermal equilibrium is reached. Once it is reached, movies of the system look the same running forward and backwards. Living systems are nowhere near thermal equilibrium and yet can reach steady-state behaviour—at least for a while. But now there is generally an obvious difference between forward and backward motion: the ‘arrow of life’. Under some conditions though, especially if one is looking at the system from afar so that the local details disappear, forward and backward behaviour can look almost the same. Life then impersonates thermal equilibrium while still being nowhere near it. I will talk about recent research aimed at quantifying this effect: How do we know whether life’s movie is running backwards?

This talk is part of the SciSoc – Cambridge University Scientific Society series.

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