[FOUNTAIN]Inequality Hidden in NatureIn the world of animals, the stronger gets it all. The situation is better in human society, but the lopsided concentration of power and wealth is also a serious problem. What then, about the lifeless world of molecules?
All of material in the world consists of molecules. Molecules are too small to be touched or to be seen. But they have energy, which is equivalent to wealth or power in human society, and accumulations of such molecules constitute life and the wonder of nature. Temperature defines the amount of kinetic energy molecules possess. Molecules move faster as their temperature rises. At normal temperature, air molecules fly around the room at 350 meters per second on average, the speed of sound, but at 200 degree centigrade below zero, they lose power to move and get clustered to become a liquid.
Does each molecule have the same amount of energy? Not at all.
Unlike human beings, molecules do not hide existing energy or boast about nonexisting energy. Therefore, though included in the same object, there are some "poor" molecules which do not move because of lack of energy, and there are "wealthy" molecules that fly at the speed of a bullet. The proportion of rich people varies country by country in human society, but in the world of molecules, the ratio between the poor and rich molecules is constant according to a formula called the Boltzmann distribution.
In a closed system, the most energetic 20 percent of molecules possess 46 percent of the total energy, while the lowest 20 percent possess 4 percent of the total energy. The proportion is better than in human society, where the upper 20 percent own 80 percent of the total wealth in the world, but the molecular world still seems unequal. But the "middle class" molecules, with average energy, exceed 60 percent of the total number of molecules. Autocrats or billionaires holding tremendous power or wealth do not exist.
What would happen if the world of molecules were really "equal?" At normal temperature, water molecules can evaporate and become a gas if they accumulate 11 times more energy than the average. Ice molecules can melt and become water if they have twice the average amount of energy.
In the world of molecules, where the Boltzmann distribution is applied, clothes dry and ice melts because there always are such differences in activity between molecules.
If the amount of energy possessed by each molecule was the same, ice would start to thaw only when the temperature reaches 200 degrees centigrade and water would begin to evaporate at 3,000 degrees centigrade. Then the earth would be nothing but a dead iceberg.
So we can say that the wonder of life and harmonious nature all come with the inequality existing in the world of molecules.
I assume that in our society, inequality in some degree may serve as driving force for development of our society. The problem is the situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
The writer is a professor of chemistry at Sogang University.
by Lee Duck-hwan