Nicole Yunger Halpern - Field notes on the second law of thermodynamics from a quantum physicist
Nicole Yunger Halpern

March 22, 2024, 3:30pm - 4:30pm
The Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

1008, 10th Floor of Cathedral of Learning
University of Pittsburgh, 4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh 15260
United States

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University of Pittsburgh

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The Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh invites you to join us for our 64th Annual Lecture Series Talk. Attend in person or visit our live stream on YouTube at

The Annual Lecture Series, the Center’s oldest program, was established in 1960, the year when Adolf Grünbaum founded the Center. Each year the series consists of six to eight lectures, about three quarters of which are given by philosophers, historians, and scientists from other universities.

ALS – Nicole Yunger Halpern

March 22 @ 3:30 pm - 6:00 pm EDT

Title: Field notes on the second law of thermodynamics from a quantum physicist

Abstract: Thermodynamics reigns as queen of the physical theories, governing everything from biophysics to cosmology. The second law of thermodynamics heads her court, stipulating that time appears to flow in only one direction and limiting engines’ efficiencies. However, idealizations curtail the original second law’s applicability: small systems violate simple, early formulations of the law, which imply quantitative predictions only about equilibrium states. The nineteenth-century law has been tightened, including within quantum thermodynamics, a field that has taken off in the past decade. I will illustrate this progress with examples. As a spoiler alert: I know of no ways to leverage quantum phenomena to break the second law. However, quantum and other resources enable us to “bend around” the second law: we can appear to violate the law while, in fact, subtly avoiding assumptions behind modern formulations of the law. Reference: Yunger Halpern, Quantum Steampunk: The Physics of Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Johns Hopkins University Press (2022).

This talk will also be available live streamed on:

Zoom at

This talk will also be available live streamed on YouTube at

Light refreshments will follow the lecture in CL 1008.

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