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Statistical mechanics of systems with negative temperature

Do negative absolute temperatures matter physics and specifically Statistical Physics? We provide evidence that we can certainly answer positively to this vexata quaestio. The great majority of models investigated by statistical mechanics over almost one century and a half exhibit positive absolute temperature, because their entropy is a nondecreasing function of energy. Since more than half a century ago it has been realized that this may not be the case for some physical systems as incompressible fluids, nuclear magnetic chains, lasers, cold atoms and optical waveguides.

We review these examples and discuss their peculiar thermodynamic properties, which have been associated to the presence of thermodynamic regimes, characterized by negative absolute temperatures. As reported in this review, the ambiguity regarding the definition of entropy has recurrently raised a harsh debate about the possibility of considering negative temperature states as genuine thermodynamic equilibrium ones.

Here we show that negative absolute temperatures are consistent with equilibrium as well as with non-equilibrium thermodynamics. In particular, thermometry, thermodynamics of cyclic transformations, ensemble equivalence, fluctuation–dissipation relations, response theory and even transport processes can be reformulated to include them, thus dissipating any prejudice about their exceptionality, typically presumed as a manifestation of transient metastable effects.

M. Baldovin, S. Iubini, R. Livi, A. Vulpiani, Statistical mechanics of systems with negative temperature, Physics Reports 23 (2021) 1-50.

Angelo Vulpiani

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