Undetectable to the naked eye, a microscopic world is bursting with energy. Molecular motors chug along filament tracks to transport cargo around cells; molecules randomly bind and unbind with each other; and small inert particles in fluids move in a seemingly erratic way.
This dynamic world of the very small is the focus of a new textbook, “Stochastic Thermodynamics: An Introduction”, co-authored by Luca Peliti, professor emeritus of statistical mechanics at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy, and Simone Pigolotti, associate professor and head of the Biological Complexity Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST).
Unlike the centuries-old field of classical thermodynamics, stochastic thermodynamics is a newly emerged and rapidly evolving branch, originating just over two decades ago. It focuses on the interplay between heat, work and energy at the microscopic scale.
"At such small scales, randomness has a huge impact on the dynamics of a system – there’s lots of tiny fluctuations that create uncertainty,” said Professor Pigolotti. “This means that changes have to be made to the classical laws of thermodynamics to account for the effect of randomness.”
Stochastic thermodynamics is so new that this is the first textbook about the field, with the lack of educational material a major factor in spurring Prof. Pigolotti to write it.
“When I first started working in this field about five years ago, there weren’t many resources that explained the science in a pedagogical way – it took a lot of effort to get up to speed,” said Prof. Pigolotti.
The book aims to lower the entry barrier into the field by targeting postgraduate students and junior scientists who are starting from zero. It’s not simply an overview of the field, Prof. Pigolotti said, but is the fusion of both his and Prof. Peliti’s teaching experiences.
The book was published by Princeton University Press in the US on July 6th, 2021, with the UK edition following on August 17th.
For Prof. Pigolotti, the book’s release is like crossing the finishing line of a marathon. “It was a feat of endurance”, he joked. “We started writing in 2018 so it took a good few years to get to what we’ve created today. It feels like a huge accomplishment.”