Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Maxwell’s daemon

Physicist James Clerk Maxwell imagined pair of neighboring rooms, their air being initially in thermal equilibrium, having a partition across the middle with a tiny door. A miniscule daemon is posted at the door with a little ping-pong paddle, and his duty is to try to build up fastermoving air molecules in room B and slower ones in room A. For instance, when a fast molecule is headed through the door, going from A to B, he lets it by, but when a slower than average molecule tries the same thing, he hits it back into room A. Would this decrease the total entropy of the pair of rooms?

No. The daemon needs to eat, and we can think of his body as a little heat engine. His metabolism is less efficient than a Carnot engine, so he ends up increasing the entropy rather than decreasing it.

Last Update: 2009-06-21