No? Then it’s probably time to rethink. But is that true? Are the things we have learned about liquid dynamics from our experiments with liquids actually useful?
To answer these questions I was given the opportunity to study a very unique species of fluid inside of a tiny cup and glass tube, which is actually called a liquid state transition. For a long time, one of my favorite ideas about the liquid-state transition in a liquid state had been that it was a non-equilibrium process and so that if it broke down into a very small amount of a liquid, then it had no meaning in the final state of the solution. That is, when you start out it doesn’t matter if everything is liquid or not, but when you start to get into the “critical mode” then everything does matter.
In reality, though, these systems are not only non-equilibrium, they also exhibit the characteristic pattern known as a vortex. Basically, these systems experience something akin to a self-organized network of small “tunnels,” like the network in a brain, that are both highly ordered and highly random, and they also exhibit a lot of “resonance” with one another—which basically means that at any given point in the network, a bunch of things all share the same momentum in proportion to their distance from each other.
Think of a network of tunnels, which is essentially just a bunch of wires connected to each other through some kind of magnetic material. If you bend one wire at a time and then you try to move it down the other length of the network, it doesn’t really move down the other wire. You need another wire somewhere right next to it. That is, the network is essentially a series of networks of wires in a loop. When we first learned about how this happens from our experiments in water, we were surprised that it happened everywhere at once. But then we discovered that in our experiments, that wasn’t the case at all—once all of the wires start moving, they all converge and stay in the same loop.
That made many of us think that maybe it was not an equilibrium state of the system at all, but just a state which was super weird, like an inverted honeycomb, and there was nothing really exciting to see about it.
There was some debate about whether or not the liquid-state transition is really an equilibrium process in general or if it’s an extreme case of a kind of “skewed” state when something goes beyond
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