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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Lab jacob.leachman

The $10B per year challenge facing Washington State

If you could solve one problem affecting the lives of everyone in the Pacific Northwest, what would it be?

What would you be willing to give up to solve it?

WSU is working to solve many Grand Challenges. The one I’m telling you about today is a $10B per year problem that’s making us sick — the importing and use of fossil fuels in Washington State.

So here is my Grand Challenge:

Sustaining the Pacific Northwest via locally produced, clean, fuel.

More specifically, reducing the importation of carbon-based fossil fuels into Washington State to less than half of the status quo by 2050, when I’m eligible to retire.


The 7,310,300 residents of Washington State own 7,872,783 vehicles that nearly entirely burn imported fossil fuels. 46% of Washington State’s primary energy needs come from petroleum resulting in nearly half of the 94.4 Million Metric Tons of greenhouse gas emissions in our state in 2013. If those emissions were solid CO2 piled on top of CenturyLink field, it would be a pile 7.5 miles tall, every year. It’s a giant scar on our state — one that funnels $$$ billions out of our state to import those fuels, the emissions of which ultimately disrupt the lifespans of us and our ecosystems.

Breakdown the big three fossil fuel imports — 141.5 million barrels of oil, 308 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 3.5 million short tons of coal — assume $60/barrel of oil, $3.00/thousand cubic feet of natural gas, $45/ton of coal, and that’s $8.5 billion lost to oil, 0.924 billion to natural gas, and $157.5 million to coal. That’s nearly $10 billion every year that would stay here in our state if we had domestic alternatives. Not to mention the reduction in medical bills from the reduced pollution.

Moreover, an alternative like hydrogen is a primary feedstock for many chemical processes, including fertilizer, that we also import.

What will we replace Fossils with? — Electrofuels – primarily Hydrogen

More than 3/4 of Washington State’s electricity generation is from renewable sources in the Columbia basin, making Washington the 2nd largest renewable energy producer in the United States. We produce so much electricity that over half of it is sent to California via the Western Interconnect. Here’s a breakdown by power generation type for the Bonneville Power Administration:

Note the monthly variation in Hydro Generated associated with spring run-off, how we vary the output of our single nuclear power plant (Thermal Generated) to adjust for the variable load, and that more power is sent to California (Net Interchange) than we use (Net Load). We see something interesting when we take a closer look at the Wind Generated. In the below right figure you see the increase in installed wind generation capacity for BPA, a nice exponential increase that hit a wall in 2012. The lower left figure, a map of Current and Proposed Wind Projects in the Columbia Gorge, shows that the limit in generation capacity wasn’t due to a lack of sites. The limiter is our ability to control the daily fluctuations in renewable power supply.

At any given moment the BPA is working to regulate the power on the grid, to keep the voltage from getting too high (light bulbs blow out) or too low (brown outs). The BPA has real time outputs of this balancing act. Here is a shot from 2016 I use in talks. You can see two points where we exceeded our limit to decrease (dec) and increase (inc) energy on the grid, which causes problems.

How will our vehicles change?

Washington state is making excellent strides on all electric vehicles. This requires extensive infrastructure investments to install charging stations and to upgrade our neighborhood transformers to handle the increased supply. But the investment will pay off big time! Not only will we need less fuel imports, we’ll be able to more easily balance the grid if these chargers are smart.

But like most things, this won’t solve all of our problems. I’ve written several articles about the tradeoffs between electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Most see this as an either or. But when you stand back and look at where the technology is headed, you quickly realize that battery and fuel cell technologies are synergistic and what we all want is a hybrid. Read my piece on “Toyota versus Tesla” for more. In short, the optimal is a hybrid fuel-cell battery-electric vehicle with a 40 mile plug-in battery range (easily done with rooftop solar in the Northwest or a standard plug-in outlet overnight) and a 300 mile hydrogen fuel-cell backup (perfect for getting out and running on the highways with only 3-5 minutes to fully recharge).

Sound good? Here’s how to help make it happen.

WSU-Pullman is the flagship institution in the heart of the Columbia River Basin, the 2nd largest river in North America. Our Grand Challenge is to steward the resources of this region to sustain the vitality of the Pacific Northwest.

The HYdrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) lab at WSU is poised to address this challenge by being the only university cryogenic hydrogen lab in the US. We are developing solutions to our hydrogen refueling challenge as exemplified by the following video:


With two top finishes in the International Hydrogen Student Design Contest , our experience developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Genii liquid hydrogen drone, alumni who have created startup companies, we uniquely have the experience to lead this energy transition for our region.

Seriously. But we need your help to do it. Here’s the link to donate. And here are many other ways to help.



An AWESOME start to 2018 for HYPER lab grads

It’s been a special week for three HYPER lab grads.

Patrick Adam (Ph.D. ’17) , Ian Richardson (Ph.D. ’17), and Eli Shoemake (M.S. pending), co-founders of the startup company Protium Innovations LLC, were notified that they’ve won a Small business Technology TRansfer (STTR) award from the National Science Foundation for their 3-D printed liquid hydrogen tank technology. The award announcement can be found here. The Phase 1 award is for $225,000 for the first year, after which they can apply for a phase 2, multi-year award.

This same week, Ian Richardson was notified that he will be awarded a 3 year Postdoctoral Fellowship for technology commercialization from the Washington Research Foundation. The fellowship provides an annual salary $70,000, benefits, as well as $10,000 for travel and supplies. Ian will stay in Pullman and continue to work out of the lab during his post-doc.



Taking Land-Grant for granted

“What’s Land-grant?”

“What do you mean ‘What’s Land-grant’? You’re sitting in one.”

We were preparing to start our weekly lab meeting when the entire meeting was derailed by that innocent question. As usual, I looked around the table to allow someone else to answer, nothing. So I asked who in the room knew what a Land-Grant Institution was. Nothing. So I asked who knew what Morrill Hall on campus was named after? Nothing. I’m starting to hyperventilate. I’ve got the best students in the College in my lab. Sometimes I kid myself though. So the next week I asked a Junior level Honors College class. One hand was raised confidently out of thirty people, three to four others had heard of it.

I’ve discovered the root of our problems.

What’s Land-grant?

I’m not the first to realize this problem. Go no further than the title of the book “Reclaiming a Lost heritage: Land-Grant and Other Higher Education Initiatives for the Twenty-first Century” to realize it’s not a WSU-specific issue. As a friend told me, “that book should be required reading of every WSU employee.” The author, John R. Campbell, was the President of Oklahoma State University, a Land-Grant university from 1988-1993. In it, Campbell does a fine job of defining land-grant in historical and contemporary sense.

Historically, Land-Grant Universities were created by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 to form public universities of higher education in each state or territory from the proceeds of federal land sales. President Abraham Lincoln  signed the law during the Civil War. To say that Lincoln saw education as the cure to the problems of the time is an understatement, “I can say that I view education as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” The original act states:

“An Act donating public lands to the several states and territories which may provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts… where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

Land-grants are a gift to the people, such that they may educate and save themselves. A map of Land-Grant and tribal universities is below:

The Land-grant mission has evolved through the years. Kenyon Butterfield, the former President of the University of Rode Island and driver of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 that created the extension branches of land grant institutions, published many works on the problems afflicting rural communities of the 20th Century. Chapters in rural progress is one of several focusing on the problems of education for rural communities. Butterfield viewed the Land-Grant institutions as a great equalizer to bridge the socio-economic disparities already emerging between urban and rural life:

“We conclude, then, that the farm problem consists in maintaining upon our farms a class of people who have succeeded in procuring for themselves the highest possible class status, not only in the industrial, but in the political and the social order–a relative status, moreover, that is measured by the demands of American ideals. The farm problem thus connects itself with the whole question of democratic civilization.” Pg. 15

From this charge you could believe we have substantially succeeded in our Land-Grant mission. Whitman County, where WSU is located, is home to the highest percentage of millionaires (farmers) in Washington State. So is that it? Mission completed?

Contemporary Problems and the Land-Grant Mission

“It’s up to us to speak up against the three most dangerous voices in America – academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats.” – NRA President Wayne LaPierre, on-stage with the President of the United States in 2017

Many believe that the higher education system has aligned with a political party and is now being vilified by the other. The map below, developed by WSU graduate student Ryne Rohla, shows the change in voting tendencies across the US at the precinct level for the 2016 Presidential Election. What is clear to see is that the urban centers shifted harder to the left, the rural populaces generally harder to the right. This gaping rural versus urban divide is analogous to the divide that Kenyon Butterfield hoped the Land-Grant institutions would bridge.

2016 precinct level voting results by WSU student Ryne Rohla.

Now, the 21st century challenge of the Land-Grant Institution has simply shifted from what Butterfield described. In a world increasingly strained by the same energy, water, and food crises of old, we’re faced with the challenge of increasing the empathy and understanding of an ideologically divided populace that questions our very relevance.

This problem, the question of the continued relevance of Land-Grant institutions, is of our own making. As Marcel LaFollete stated of research faculty in the book, “Stealing into Print: Fraud, Plagiarism, and Misconduct in Scientific Publishing“:

“To them, the word public is a dirty word. To them, their financial support just happens to come. Tax payers are never really seen as the source. If you look at the rhetoric, everyone talks about these issues as though funding just happened. It has been keeping them in a nice, middle-class life. The notion that the money came from people next door was a notion the community couldn’t grapple with. They were like politicians losing touch with their constituency. A sense of service just doesn’t fit into what they perceive is their reason for being.”

We’ve become obsessed with the metrics intended to describe our standing and placement among our peers. Not just as individuals, but as entire institutions. With this national and global focus and pursuit of the grand national funding whales, we’ve forgotten our identity in the roots of our rural and urban constituents. As evidence, when we as an institution looked inward to develop our Grand Challenges initiative in 2015, the first draft, as developed by WSU faculty, did not mention “Land-Grant” or refer to our charter mission once. After a steaming review from myself and others, the words were added into the final documents wherever possible. This shows that on many levels we, as an institution, have lost sight of our primary brand charter and mission. And as a result, we’re becoming a stepping stone for people seeking career advancement on the way to somewhere else. These traveling administrators hardly have the time to understand our own charter mission and brand promise, let alone the values of the people in our constituency.

Like any business, when you loose sight of your primary product and how you leverage it to cultivate brand trust and a system of synergistic offerings, you’re in trouble. Positive culture is one of the first things to erode. Look around and try to find a group of emeritus faculty members sharing coffee with young faculty or students. Go through the halls and try to find an example of an original student contribution that is furthering our community through continued use. Find examples of faculty sharing spaces, classes, or students. Find a rural community that says, “this awesome ____ would not have happened if not for WSU.” After the erosion of culture comes the push for metrics, because, like GPA and school rank, they only matter when you’re not fulfilling the real needs of clients, and hence those metrics are subsequently manipulated. When you’re not connected to others or face the consequences through connected feedback loops, you’re highly susceptible to Campbell’s law which states your metrics will become corrupted and manipulated. Here’s a quote from the Toyota Way:
“The least effective manager in this (the Toyota model) is top-down and has only general management expertise–the bureaucratic manager. This characterizes a large portion of U.S. managers. How effective can you be if you are trying to run the organization through command and control without an intimate understanding of what is going on? Your only choice is to make a lot of rules and policies and measure performance relative to those rules and policies. This leads to metrics-driven management that takes the focus away from satisfying customers or building a learning organization.”

Let me be clear, the problem is not the metrics. Metrics are important. The problem is focusing on the metrics, instead of the broader goals that implicitly drive the metrics. This metrics game focus, and competing to win, when our goal and mission is to bridge divides and connect, which everyone can win at, is a race to the bottom that won’t end well.

Re-discovering our Land and Mission

The irony is that agriculture is our founding mission and we’ve forgotten our roots.

We live on a land of immense bounty and beauty called the Palouse. In a State of incredible social, biological, and geographical diversity in a prime phase of development. Washington likely has the best ratio of research faculty to supporting industry anywhere in the US. These roots can sustain. It is our continued mission. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

So put the paper or proposal down.

Name one of your constituents.

What county or town do they live in?

What are their biggest problems?

How are you working to solve these problems?

Now go one step further. Near your constituent there is a town with a school, a school full of children. For many, their dream in life is to solve those problems and they need you to help them realize this dream. Are you going to help them or take it away? Are you occupying the seat of someone that would help them? No? Ok, then what are you going to do about it? Tell them to come to WSU? Process them through for their tuition funds, stamp them, and send them on their way?

Try this instead. Get a group of them. Give the group a great challenge. Come up with ideas nobody has tried yet. Put the group in front of regional alumni, community leaders, and politicians — they’ll find the money, it’s their job. Now, accept the responsibility and commit to deliver. You’ve got just 4 years before your group will graduate.

Finished? Did it work? Great. Write that paper. Write a proposal to spread the concept nationally through other Land-grants. Pretty soon you’ve hit it big — just don’t forget your roots. Send your group back to their school. Have them tell stories about their accomplishments, and where they’re going next. You’ve won. Now repeat.

If enough of us do this, may’be we’ll all win. And may’be, somewhere along the way, we’ll stop taking this land, or its people, or our mission for granted.

Social Thermodynamics: Mentoring and The Sage at the Top of the Mountain

Me to Sage: “The university is a cancer patient.”

Without hesitation, Sage to me: “And you’re the cancer.”

Me: suddenly realizes this was part of the plan all along.

The classic tale of the sage, or old wise man, on top of the mountain was written by a sage, just not one on top of a mountain.

Why create such a tale? Why send people off alone on such an arduous journey in search of enlightenment? Because most expect to be enlightened by an authority. Authoritarians are always on top of something somewhere (See Yertle the Turtle). It’s what they do.

Why do true sage’s send seekers to the mountain top first? It’s part of both the filtering and the development process.

When the seekers come down from high and back to the true sage, frustrated by the authoritarian telling them what to do and filled with the realization that it was the journey and not the sage that mattered, it’s time to start.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a definitive mentor at every stage of my life and could probably define each stage by the mentor. A football coach here, honors english teacher there, IT technician here, outcast colleague there, former university chancellor… Now I’m a mentor for many students. None of the mentor systems I’ve found explain my experiences, many seem outright short sighted. Funny thing is, mentors are never on top of a mountain — quite the contrary, more likely outcast in a cave at the base. It’s more comfortable and easier to quietly get work done there.

Conditions Conducive to Coaching

The mentoring exchange is much like the social thermodynamics of a relationship or partnership, but with important differences. The mentor — the one with knowledge and experience, is already out of value balance with the mentee — the person seeking the knowledge and experience. This gradient predicates important differences in the exchange.

The mentee needs to initiate the relationship. Since the value/knowledge gradient already exists, the mentee should voluntarily initiate the relationship to initiate a balance of power and individuality that will become important later. Usually, a prospective mentee seeks out a mentor because of some stressful problem, situation, or coming opportunity, something they are having a hard time understanding. Usually it’s not just one issue, it’s actually a host of issues that are difficult to pin down, but for some reason the mentor doesn’t have the same problem.  The mentee usually aspires towards values and abilities possessed by the mentor. But much like with relationships, the mentee’s value sets shouldn’t be more than two v-Meme levels removed from the mentor’s, else the mentee simply can’t understand where the mentor is coming from. The mentor also likely has key experiences that the mentee can relate to. The strongest mentee-mentor relationships are formed independent of money or influence, because it’s about empathy. The mentor knows this. It’s always best when resources result from the relationship independent of either participant. In the end the mentee needs to know what’s in it for the mentor.

Mentors are not out recruiting disciples for a reason or necessarily about a facade of mentoring excellence — that’s the age old con or a Ponzi scheme. It’s generally not about the money or influence, although having enough matters. The mentor’s key resource is time, because bestowing values on a mentee takes work, often in many ways, at a pace the mentee ultimately controls. But it isn’t all about the mentee. Every mentee is different. The mentor sees a challenge, opportunity for both and community, and ultimately is open to the empathy of the exchange.

The Mentoring Process

I’ve watched and coached enough teams to see the following classic phases of change repeatedly in many environments: forming, storming, norming, performing. Sure it’s possible to make it through a project with all of these, but the most real and genuine change usually includes all of the elements. The empathy levels espoused by the mentee and mentor throughout the process differ. The mentee mirrors a bunch — the old saying applies “fake it ’til you make it”. The mentor is conscientiously empathic to both broadcast appropriate values in the moment while setting up a longer-term process to lead to a positive outcome for the mentee. At some point the mentee will become aware of the process and how formulated. Usually the mentor is unable to complete the task on their own and must rely on the mentee — another old saying, “those who can’t, coach instead”.

Forming: At first the exchange is a bit of a leap of faith for both mentee and mentor. At the onset of the exchange empathy for eachother is limited. The mentee really doesn’t know if the mentor is a con, much less aware of such individuals, and the mentor doesn’t really know that the mentee will complete the process, or waste the time and leave. A shared goal, objective, or task is beneficial to guide the process as it provides natural bounds for both in the exchange. Stories from eachother’s experiences, and shared activity is important at the onset as these develop the minimum required empathy for efficient exchange. A minimum amount of work/credibility must be established between the participants.

Storming: Is practically an essential part of the process. The mentee wouldn’t need the mentor if it wasn’t a challenge to change. This is usually the phase when the mentee is given a task to be performed independent of the mentor. Without the mentor, the mentee cannot mimic to the same extent and begins to revert to traditional, un-effective ways. Stress is almost essential. The mentee needs to experience why the old ways are inadequate and change is a necessity. Sometimes sparks fly. It’s ok if people know it’s part of the process.

Norming: When the mentee really realizes why they need the mentor and that the mentor has subtle tricks and heuristics that aid performance. The mentor and mentee come back together again and again. The mentee has really good questions this round and the mentor really explains how they are doing something on another level. It’s much more than going through the motions and mere mimicry. It’s subtle, but at some point the mentee now realizes the change and new way of being, yet the process still isn’t complete. The mentor must keep reinforcing.

Performing: At some point, “a case of the student outdoing the teacher” occurs. The metrics usually back it up, the mentee now can perform with the new ability. While success is fickle and the knowledge fragile, the mentor needs to send the mentee off to perform on their own. Time for the mentee’s “spirit journey” or “coming of age” moment. Sink or swim. Fish or cut bait….. This last part is essential. The mentor must get out of the way and allow the mentee to perform on their own, else it was never truly a mentor-mentee synergy. Ideally, a few connections the mentor has could aid in initiating the journey with resources and addition contacts through other networks. “When you love something, set it free.”

If successful, the transformation was complete. The mentee is now out seeking new mentors and continuously improving. Though a period of separation is generally beneficial, this does not mean the relationship between the original mentor and mentee is necessarily over. A shared story of experience, empathy, and change is now there. The mentor maintains an incredible insight and understanding of the mentee good for periodic wake-up-calls now and again.

Common Pitfalls

Where things go awry is when the mentee is never truly separated from the mentor, as in the case of the ponsi scheme or with authoritarian mentors. Having a mentee stick around when new mentees arrive with the mentor casts credibility shades. If the mentor really is a sage, and the goal is independent mastery, why is this prior mentee still around? The mentee struggles to become the mentor while still in the shadow of the original sage. Minions are born.

Where things get awkward, and these are warning signs, is when the mentor starts telling the mentee demeaning statements “you’re like the daughter/son I never had.” While viewed by the mentor as a compliment, these tribal/familial tendencies show that the mentor in the position of authority is not ready to allow the mentee independence irrespective of the mentor. In these cases it’s common for the mentor to vicariously live off of the success of the mentee. “I taught him/her everything he/she knows.” Clearly not the case. There needs to be a mutual independence and respect. The mentor should never emasculate the mentee by taking away the opportunity for respect and admiration. Judgement should only be used when required. If the mentor setup the environment/process appropriately the conditions will naturally provide feedback to the mentee.

I’ve also engaged mentors that friends and other mentors have questioned — for good reason. The old saying goes, “you become more alike the people you spend time with.” But you have to be careful about judging people by there mentors. Primarily because they are ultimately NOT there mentors. They see something in the mentor they need, which may not be at all apparent to others.

This leads to the final pitfall, this one by mentors — you must not burden yourself with responsibility for the future success of your mentees. There is a difference between a mentor and a life coach. It is their future. They must succeed independent of you.

In the End

The social thermodynamics equation for change shows how the process of seeking a mentor is inherently a phase change problem:

g = u + Pv -Ts

When we realize a single importance of a value/skill and decide to develop it, mentors help simplify and focus (u). Stress (P) is a part of the process and it’s uncommon for mentors to work through a distance. The end result though is likely increased resources (T), connections, and understanding (s).

Throughout nature there are examples of templating — providing a framework or scaffold to grow in virtuous ways otherwise unlikely. In some cases a seed is even required.

I’m to the point now where I realize that the mentees know how and when to find me, and not forcing that is part of the filtering process. I also know that I don’t know everything. I need to work on skills all the time, whether it be a new instrument, program, or cooking technique. The challenge now is finding mentors and systems that can work me through the change process as efficiently as possible. And with everyone so busy in society these days, it’s getting harder and harder to find those good mentors.

Social Thermodynamics: The beginning of the end

My four year old son Max from three feet away looked directly into my eyes, then down to my mouth, then back to my eyes.

“Daddy, why aren’t you talking?”

Right in the middle of playing, my mind drifted to this book, and I was staring out the window.

The intent of his question was more along the lines of: Where did you go? We were connected and playing. What happened?

Children are generally born with an innate ability to read and mirror facial emotions. I couldn’t have taught him to do that if I wanted to. Somehow, this programming is buried away in our DNA. Empathy makes us happy. It’s not simply play my son lives for, it’s shared experience and discovery. Abandoned children who are fed, kept warm, and left alone without human interaction have a tendency to die of natural causes. Unlike values, which are learned, we are born to empathize. When allowed to flourish empathy can even lead to love. And, like so many other gifts of our universe, we’ve taken empathy for granted.

We teach children that others are different or somehow less valuable. We shame young boys for crying and showing fear. We replaced in person exchanges with TV, phone, and computer screens. Once a humane pat on the back or high five. Now a digital thumbs up. We stonewall, bully, disrupt, and gaslight. We scare people with doomsday prophecies.

Here we are again, as always, wondering whether the new technology, generation, or emerging nation threat is the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end is not the flash before the mushroom cloud, the perfectly sentient machine, or the rising oceans — these are relics of ourselves. Take another look at human history. The beginning of nearly every end is ultimately rooted in empathy.

While most will agree on the issue, our values have stopped humanity from directly addressing our empathy problem. I’ve had many friends and colleagues stop me and say, “What are you smoking with this empathy stuff?” or “We’re not meant to quantify the soft sciences — that’s God’s role.” Some just say “Wow, sounds interesting” and quickly walk away. Our value systems, including religions and academic disciplines, have wired this response into our cultures. Setting empathy free subverts control and efficiency. As humanity has shown, work and control are needed — in appropriate context. Knowing the appropriate context for values and empathy is a key take away from this framework. Where values create balance for humanity, empathy creates direction.

While it’s easy to blame social constructs for our empathy flaws, the core of our empathy conundrum lies within. We all have our own realities. To justify our continued engagement in humanity we’re wired to believe our own reality is right and just. Individuality.

I started this book with no less of an intent than to avert World War III. It made so much sense to apply the thermodynamic duality of energy versus entropy, and the most rigorously tested physical laws of the universe, to explain our challenging duality of values versus empathy. Like so many others, I realized what I was really after during the journey: I needed to write about empathy because I struggle with it. I’ve known this struggle for decades. It’s one of many reasons I married my wife Chelsea, who’s naturally an empathic listener.

As Chelsea knows better than anyone else, “You’re so very analytical, all of the time, which kindof defeats the point of empathy.” Indeed there is a tendency for those who are not naturals to coach — I have to analyze and break empathy down in order to stay connected with others. But as a result of my deficiencies, I’ve always been able to help those around me aspire to something greater.

Now I look around my community and see people with wonderful values and connections struggling to understand the context for when and how to apply them to affect change — each of their stories a potential chapter or publication. At the same time, I’ve got new friends and colleagues who are going to do incredible things proving and applying this framework in many more ways than I can imagine. Hence, it’s time to set the book free. As Chelsea said, “You’re spending all of this time empathizing with your book’s readership, at the expense of empathizing with your family, friends, and community.”

When she said that, I finally knew how this book would end.

When you know the values that matter, and all of the ways, it’s time for a new beginning.

Social Thermodynamics: Good Cop, Bad Cop

(Bad Cop standing over suspect): “Look, we know your friend ran off with the cash, and you helped him. Let’s make this real simple: WHERE IS HE?”

(Suspect, calmly): “I don’t know where he is.”

(Bad Cop): “You know I could throw on an impeding an investigation charge — another 5 years!? One last time: WHERE IS HE?”

(Suspect): “I’m not saying anything.”

(Bad Cop): “You fucked up. I’m not sure I can help you after this. I’m going to get the paperwork for the next charge.” (bad cop leaves)

(Minutes later Good cop quietly enters room with a root beer): “Hey, want to share a root beer?”

(Suspect): “You pigs are idiots.” (takes root beer)

(Good cop, sits down): “I’m sorry, he can get pretty worked up about things. While you were talking, I read through your file. This isn’t the first time your friend took off and left you the bill is it?”

(Suspect): “You don’t know the half of it.”

(Good cop): “You might be surprised. Have any idea how often I have to finish my partners paperwork? Did you see that vein coming out on his forehead? You know, after he left here, he went outside and punched the soda machine? What a hot head.”

(Suspect): “My friend can’t control his temper either. Gets both of us in tight spots all the time and I have to bail him out.”

(Good cop): “My boss said I’ve got know choice but to work with mine. What’s your excuse?”

(Suspect): “I needed the money to pay my family’s mortgage.”

(Good cop): “Oh I remember your kids now, I’ve got a 3 year old too — man their cute. Don’t you live in the neighborhood? You know there’s a program to get assistance.”

(Suspect): “No I didn’t.”

(Good cop): “I’ll get you the paperwork for the program. What’s your friend going to do with the money with you stuck in here?”

(Suspect): “Drugs.”

(Good cop): “I bet that’s not going to help your family. I tell you what, I can probably get my partner to wave the charge, and we’ll get you back home with the paperwork this evening if we can get the money back.”

(Suspect): “Ok….”

The classic good cop, bad cop routine was described as “one of the oldest devices in police work,” in a book from 1940 on Police Interrogation.

This was just an example. But what you can see is the setup for phase change as our Gibbs energy equation describes. Remember that G2-G1 is indicative of change where

G = U + PV – TS

In good cop, bad cop, the bad cop focuses in on ratcheting up the stress (P), flustering an individual with values (U), and depriving them of others, resources, or connection. The good cop comes in later with a simple focus (low U), calm demeanor (low P), and offerings of resources or connections (high T and S). Classic negative change of G2-G1.

The Good Cop, Bad Cop routine has found it’s way outside of criminal justice. It’s a common analogy to describe the relationship between a university president (good cop) and provost (bad cop). CEOs and CFOs likely evolve a similar duality. Probably even parents.

It turns out that our social thermodynamics simply explains one of the oldest tricks in the book. May’be it will help our officers know when and how to apply it with a little more efficiency.

Social Thermodynamics: The Collapse of Anti-Empathy Movements

“Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food. We are starving!” groaned Mack.

“You hush up your mouth!” howled the mighty King Yertle.
“You’ve no right to talk to the world’s highest turtle.
I rule from the clouds! Over land! Over sea!
There’s nothing, no, NOTHING, that’s higher than me!””

-Dr. Suess from “Yertle the Turtle and other stories”

The novelist George Santayana is often attributed to the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” People often associate this quote with memory, and that simply knowing what happened before can prevent a future tragedy. I’ve asked myself over and over again how many times society must repeat itself. It’s clear that the problem isn’t just one of memory, it’s understanding the drivers behind great tragedy that matters.

Think back to a human caused tragedy in history. Odds are, the tragedy was enabled by an empathy deficiency at some level: the Aztecs, Nazi Germany and World War II, the French Revolution, and just about every other revolution. Empathy deficiencies don’t just cause wars, but just about every engineering disaster has it’s roots in empathy — the Halifax Disaster, the Quebec bridge, the Radium Girls, the Bhopal chemical leak, the Shuttle Challenger, and many more. Each of these has it’s roots in one of the empathy disorders of stonewalling (mirroring), bullying (emotional), sociopathy (rational), and gaslighting/psychopathy (conscious). In the moment, we justify the non-empathic decision as essential under the circumstances. But in the end, we somehow identify tragedy as something that arose through a grave misunderstanding. Simply understanding the ways that actions affect other individuals, groups, or the environment is the essential essence of empathy.

Paul Bloom and the Anti-Empathy Movement

Paul Bloom is a Professor of Psychology at Yale who in 2016 published the book, “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion“. To cherry pick several phrases from the book, “Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism… It is innumerate… favoring the one over the many. It can spark violence; our empathy for those close to us is a powerful force for war and atrocity toward others… This perverse moral mathematics is part of the reason why governments and individuals care more about a little girl stuck in a well than about events that will affect millions.”

What you can see from Bloom’s quote is that he definitely cares about preventing tragedy and views empathy as the problem. As is often the case, what someone wants is not the problem, it’s how someone goes about doing it that matters. If you take any of the levels alone in Pezeshki’s empathy pyramid you have the potential to do great wrongs. Empathy, like entropy, is defined as many ways. Bloom seems to have a limited view of a sympathy heavy mirroring and emotional empathy. Compassion is defined as a rational form of sympathy. This is often typical of so many authoritarian-legalistic academics because these empathy forms limit power and control to promote a nuanced view of reliability. Let’s get at the social thermodynamics to straighten this quandary out.

In social thermodynamics, empathy generation is the wasted opportunity to do work. Having to work through emotional or in-group out-group dynamics can take a lot of time and resources, and yes, even lead to medical or other tragedies. This is in part because we lack appropriate context for when to act on rational values versus when to empathize as developed in Chapters 2 and 3 of this book. When the data and evidence is conclusive, and you know what values to act on, it’s time to act. That is unless not everyone understands, in which case acting against the will of others can lead to psychological harm. Remember that having values more than two v-Memes removed can make shared understanding extremely difficulty due to the amount of resources required to build the shared values. Setting up the rational and conscious empathy layers to promote shared understanding before it’s time to act is the key that Bloom seems to miss. And not just Bloom, but just about all of humanity.

We’ve watched how extreme ideals, like the Nazi elitism parodied by Dr. Suess in “Yertle the Turtle”, have led to the greatest atrocities humanity has witnessed, yet we suffer such a chronic misunderstanding of empathy that the tragedy risks repeating. Empathy and entropy are not the mere disorder of yesteryear, but may be the very thing that saves us from ourselves.

Empathy in the balance of Nature

The tower of turtles in Yertle the Turtle has many corollaries to termite towers around the world. In these, a queen termite creates a colony of millions to form tonnes of earth into towers as tall as 17 feet. What we power-driven humans often neglect though is the point of these towers. The point is to “farm” a symbiotic fungus that takes up 8 times more of the tower than the termites themselves do. The fungus needs the termites, and the termites need the fungus. One tower can take 4 to 5 years to build and one strong rain can cause the need to rebuild. And like the rafts of fire ants after floods, we may see wonders of evolution at work in the aftermath.

Termite tower — Commons — Jim Bendon from Karratha, Australia

In his seminal text that launched the field of Thermodynamics, Saudi Carnot wrote, “Everyone knows that heat can produce motion. It causes the agitations of the atmosphere, the ascension of clouds, the fall of rains and of meteors, the currents of water which channel the surface of the globe, and of which man has thus far only employed but a small portion. Even earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are the result of heat. From this immense reservoir we may draw the moving force necessary for our purposes.” From the beginning, thermodynamics was responsible for incredible machines, like termites, and the withering of the towers they build. Without this duality, algae, fungus, or termites would’ve encompassed the planet eons ago.

Humanity seems the first organism of our planet to fully attempt this domination. Politicians and companies have gaslighted us into believing that the climate isn’t changing. We’re sociopathic enough to fence ourselves off from our neighbors and the wilderness. We’re stone-walled away from our environments behind layers of insulation and air conditioning. And we attack empathy as the cause of great injustice. The question becomes whether we’ll suffer the fate of Yertle the Turtle or realize our empathic connections to our home, before the rains come tumbling down, in whatever form they may.

“where the Lorax once stood, as long as he could, before he was lifted away…” -Dr. Suess in “The Lorax”

Social Thermodynamics: The size of the party next door

Staring off into the darkness of my bedroom at midnight, all I can here is the “thump, thump, thump” of the party next door.

Rather than stir me to call the cops though, for some reason this one is taking me back…

I was a freshman in college. The senior quarterback on the football team was eating alone in the lunchroom.

I dropped my tray in front of him and asked him what the #1 piece of wisdom he had for a new freshman to the team.

“Do you party?” he asked.

“Not really.” I replied.

“My advice is to party.” he said without hesitation.

He continued, “I’ve woken up in the most random places and made the most incredible life-changing connections because I partied.”

I thanked him.

Commons — in many ways,, literally.


College towns are phenomenal test-beds for social experiments. One of my classic essay prompts in thermodynamics tasks students with applying entropy in their personal lives. It’s a pass-fail short essay posted on a message board for their classmates to read. What it does is approach a nebulous class topic, like the definition of entropy, in many neat and new ways that helps empathize with the class, and me. One response I’ve never forgotten: a taxonomy of parties that correlated size to entropy. I’ve attempted more formality here via definitions inspired by the Urban Dictionary:

Date: Between just two people. Decisions are to be made and sometimes it’s necessary to control the flow of information.

Get-together: “What someone calls a party that they don’t want a lot of people to come to.” A get-together likely has less than 8 people in attendance. Get-togethers likely range between 3-8 people in size and often occur with a specific objective in mind, like moving a heavy item in a yard, replacing an auto-part, etc. Socializing over drinking or some other shared food is likely.

Kick-back: “Small gathering between group (sic) of friends, more than a get together, less than a party (used in nor-cal central valley). Kickbacks have one simple rule. They are not parties. No illegit (sic) friends of friends of friends showing up empty handed and emptying your fridge. Kickbacks are the stress free versions of parties where the host doesn’t have to worry about shit (sic) breaking or cops being called. There’s a reason it’s called a kickback; as in kickback, and relax.” Kick-backs likely range in size between 8-24 people to conform with “no friends of friends of friends” rule. Drinking is likely with common music, dancing and other forms of empathy (pickup football game, etc) are possible as well.

Party: 24-60 people in size. Parties typically involve alcohol, drugs, dancing, and sex. Music is essential. Something usually gets broken, often on purpose. Parties are stressful for the host, unless they have a designated location for party hosting. Cops could be called.

Rager: “A party where everyone there calls everyone they know to come rage the house. eventually theres (sic) like 500 people, the house gets trashed, and the cops come.” Generally more than 60 people. Drugs, sex, music, violence. By definition, the “entropy” is high as the cops are expected.

The amount of empathy-building experiences, alcohol, common music, dancing, clearly correlate with the size of the party; much like the premise of Jeremy Rifkin’s “Empathic Civilization”. Imagine a party where everyone was listening to their own music — it would probably dissipate quickly with a few skirmishes. We need the shared empathy of experience to keep it together.

Obviously, the presence of security and business rules changes the dynamic considerably if in a dance club. Rules like this are a layer of rational empathy.

But why? Especially in high-school and college, are we drawn to these parties, like moths to flames? It’s both the blooming age and the age of stress. It’s prime time for connection and change. Going with our Gibbs’ energy for change G = U + Pv – Ts, the falling values, stress, increasing density, resources, and empathy are the indicators of change. Much like our marches and riots chapter, society knows the conditions for change whether we are aware of it or not. Hence the sage wisdom from my senior quarterback friend.

Applications to education and business/group theory

The reason this taxonomy stuck with me is that the sizes roughly corresponded to group/classroom sizes for education. But these sizes also correspond to the groupings you see in companies and other realms. I was talking with a team-leader at Google once about size groupings and ran with a hunch. I told her she likely sees the following groupings at Google: 2 for permission, 3-6 for a design group, around 24 for a task area, 60 for a division, and everyone else. She said, “how did you know that?” Just experience, in many ways:

Decision meeting: usually just two people, one with authority, where permission is granted or a decision is made.

Design group meeting: usually 3-6 people. Similar to a morning coffee group meeting. This number of people allows the conversations to go in new and fun directions, while still keeping everyone in the multi-mode conversation. Once you exceed 6 people though it becomes difficult to keep the group from partitioning. This is likely also the threshold where people feel like they are contributing to the discussion.

Elementary classroom/team: 8-24 people. A leader is almost essential and information is no-longer bi-directional on an even plane. Rules and guidelines are more significant, but the group is small enough for everyone to know everyone else’s name and for the group to change topics and focuses throughout a day. Improvised discussions can still be easily facilitated.

University classroom/division: 24-60 people. Very much a one way, data-dump conversation with minimal questions or discussion. The purpose of these meetings is to inform. I’ve found that over the course of a semester, I’ll get close to learning everyone’s names in a class of this size. But not everyone knows everyone else.

Mega-class/company: More than 60 people. Often a CEO or other lead addressing a company wide problem or issue. Discussion is unlikely. It’s a low empathy environment if you’re just using verbal communication. People are too far removed to see facial or other empathy cues.

From this breakdown it’s easy to see why the swelling classroom size/sophistication is forcing a phase-change to more experiential and active learning techniques augmented by digital media and communications systems. Although not explicitly viewed as such, these techniques and technologies are all trying to scaffold and build our empathy for the group.

Dunbar’s Number

In the 1990’s British Anthropologist Robert Dunbar noticed a trend between primate grouping size and neocortex size. He then used these observations to estimate the maximum number of active social relationships a human can maintain between 100 and 250, with a common estimate of 150. Malcolm Gladwell associated Dunbar’s number in “The Tipping Point” with the limit on people that the Gore-Tex company allows in a single building.

But what we’ve seen from the party argument above, the number of social relationships that can be stewarded at any given time is likely as much, or more, of an empathy and value/function problem than a neocortex/brain problem of an individual. It’s an artifact of the group empathy. Now that we have computers in all of our pockets adding an entirely new dimension of empathy and information, it will be interesting to watch how Dunbar’s number(s) change.

When to call the cops

Has always been a debate. At least now we can contextualize the problem and have an idea of 1) why we party, 2) how many layers of empathy are required to keep a group, based on size and function together, and 3) the ratio of people to empathic modes/layers when a party will get nasty. Basically, with just oral communication, and no security/watch people (see the Bouncy House Physics chapter), more than 60 is the threshold where it’s only a matter of time. Someone’s got to study this. We want to facilitate change, society has figured out how that happens. We just haven’t figured out how to do so efficiently.

My quarterback sensei was right. I’ll never forget a party one January when one of my offensive lineman friends took off his shirt and belly slid down the icy street flapping his arms and snorting like a walrus. Some connections do change you for life.


Social Thermodynamics: Gibbs and the Energy for Change

It was late January of my first Wisconsin winter. I had started my Ph.D. studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about half a year ago. I had just failed the qualifying exam — a tortuous two day event with a cumulative 6 hours of written exams covering a wide range of topics to determine qualification to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. I had been told that I should seriously consider a job in industry. My dreams of combining what came natural to me in teaching with the fun of research had shattered.

I don’t know why, but when I was walking by the mail room one day I decided I should check my mailbox. I had never received anything. But today was different, a letter not to any of the other graduate students with an L for the last name, but one for me. I opened it.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck, my knees started shaking, and tears welled up in my eyes.

On the letter was typed a congratulations that I had won the Western Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Thesis Award for 2007.

The Western Association of Graduate Schools consisted of 85 member institutions in the Western United States and Canada. The award covered all disciplines. Holy cow! Spurred by this momentum I passed my next qualifying exam, raced through my Ph.D. in experimental cryogenics in just 3 years, and skipped a post-doctoral position entirely to land my current spot on the faculty at Washington State University — just 40 minutes from where I grew up… Life has it’s ups and downs.

Thermodynamic Surfaces for Fluids

It’s still astonishing to me that anyone could understand my thesis, let alone consider it for an award. The title, “Fundamental Equations of State for Parahydrogen, Normal Hydrogen, and Orthohydrogen,” gives an idea for how technical it was. With help from my advisors and researchers from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), I developed new equations that expressed all of the thermodynamic properties of liquid and vapor hydrogen. The equations were soon adapted as standards for hydrogen vehicle refueling. Considering the global exchange of hydrogen is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the flammability dangers, having very accurate equations was important.

Another way to think about my thesis is to consider equations of state as topographical maps — the kind that show elevations to help you to navigate a mountain on a backpacking trip. Equations of state connect all of the thermodynamic properties in a single equation that fits the ‘mountain’ that is the fluid surface — and all fluids have one. Here are a couple of plots from my thesis. The plot on the left shows the “mountain” that divides the vapor from the liquid region, with phase change in between. Above the mountain are the experimental measurements of pressure-density-temperature, in this case taken at constant density. The plot on the right shows lines of constant temperature predicted by the equation of state I developed. This plot also includes the melting line that separates solid from fluid. From graphs like these you could engineer a system to run hydrogen at any practical temperature, pressure, or density.

Each surface is unique to each fluid. The phase change ‘mountain’ is very different for hydrogen than water, or mercury. Despite over 150 years of effort, we still do not have purely theoretical equations that can accurately model these surfaces to the precision of experimental measurements. My equations, like most of the leading equations, are simply numerical fits of the surface. This is an important point. Most scientists and engineers are doggedly determined to derive equations from basic fundamentals, yet the most encompassing laws of physics still rely on these empirical fits for fluid data. Another way to think about it, atoms and molecules are incredibly complex. Trying to mathematically model all of the ways they can interact in order to accurately predict the bulk properties would require such a complex set of equations they wouldn’t be worth solving. Social space is likely no different.

In the late 1800’s, thermodynamic researchers were trying to develop these “surfaces of state” for any simple fluid, even water. Around this same time, Kelvin, Maxwell, Helmholtz, and Gibbs were all trying to merge and resolve the first law of thermodynamics (balancing energy), and the second law of thermodynamics (balancing entropy). It was Gibbs, working in near isolation at Yale, that had the spatial-graphical understanding to merge the two laws with the fluid surface.

Gibbs and the Energy for Change

I’ve taught graphical plotting of thermodynamic properties for over a decade now. It wasn’t until I went back and read Gibbs’ original paper from 1873 “Representation By Surfaces of the Thermodynamic Properties of Substances” that I realized the significance of these methods to the history of thermodynamics. By 1873 it was well established that the useful work production from a substance was related by the change in U + Pv, what was also known was the degradation of this useful work by the change in TS. As Gibbs began trying to relate these to the property surface for water, he realized that the change in the combination of the properties U + Pv – TS was 0 while the fluid was stationary, known as equilibrium, and negative when the fluid was spontaneously changing phase at constant temperature and pressure. He and Maxwell developed the following figures based on this realization:

James Clerk Maxwell famously molded the surface from plaster and mailed copies to his scholarly friends to aid in visualizing the phase change problem. The figure in the middle is particularly useful. In this original figure, drawn at a single value of volume (density), η is entropy (S), ε is internal energy (U), and A is the original state of the fluid (at any given point it has a single value for internal energy and entropy). From this, Gibbs realized that the line MN represents the total amount of energy that would be dissipated as heat if you wasted the potential to do something, AB is the maximum amount of work available (also known as exergy, or Helmholtz energy in this context) if no entropy is generated, AC is the maximum amount of entropy that could be generated without changing internal energy or density.

Extending Gibbs energy beyond thermodynamics

Gibbs had a pretty good idea for the significance of his new property. Ultimately he could predict phase change throughout nature, not only fluids but solid materials, biological materials, and more. In 1891, Irving Fisher, one of Gibbs’ Ph.D. students finished a dissertation titled “Mathematical Investigations in the Theory of Value and Prices” that drew a direct analogy between Gibbs’ equilibrium in physical and chemical systems and the equilibrium of financial markets in social systems. The work ultimately influenced Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson who published a seminal treatise, “Foundations of Economic Analysis” which heavily utilized principles of equilibrium, vector analysis, and probability. The Physicist and economist Robert Ayres has completed extensive work on thermodynamic equilibrium theories in economic systems. If we invented economics and money to aid in social exchanges, and invented economic properties like inflation to cope with physical phenomena like entropy, it’s not a far extension to imagine how these same thermodynamic laws directly transfer to social space.

Gibbs Energy in Social Space

Once I had equated empathy with social entropy, the question became how to represent the other common thermodynamic properties in social space. In April 2016 I had an epiphany one morning and just listed all of the properties off.

Internal Energy (U) –> value evolution

The values a society aspires towards (whether adopted or imposed) are directly related to the spiral memes that correspond to how the society transfers knowledge. The more evolved the value set, the higher the degree of plasticity and movement between value sets that is possible. For example, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is how the US and most Western societies gauge progress and fits in with the Performance v-Meme. The Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI) is the metric that Bhutan adopted to gauge progress and the sustainable values necessary for this small nation fall primarily into the Communitarian v-Meme, but yet require a modest GDP to achieve. The desires/perceived needs by society are also relative to a reference state, the GDP of the US is very different from Japan, etc. Just like entropy, internal energy meters don’t exist and change is relative. But change does indicate momentum, whether for better or worse.

Temperature (T) –> Energy/resources

Temperature is defined as the statistical average speed of particles in a system. As the temperature goes up, the more energy modes that can be awakened.

As temperature approaches absolute zero, molecules (people) cannot do anything but worry about survival and quantized (think mirroring) behavior dominates. This is the lowest Sprial vMemes structure above. Think a homeless person here, while at first glance you think they have the most freedom, the reality is they don’t have the resources to do anything.

With sufficient temperature enough energy/resources are available to energize more complex storage and communication modes.

Heat Capacity (Cv) -> Capacity for conceptual understanding of a topic

Cv is defined as being equal to the change in internal energy du divided by the change in temperature dT at constant volume. If a person has little to no values related to the concept in question, it takes considerable resources to significantly build and influence their opinions about it. You have to first form a core value, then build up the complexity of the value to influence it.

Density (1/v) –> Population/agent density

The tighter the packing, the faster the phase change. It is true that ideal gases don’t interact with the other particles. Rural communities and isolationists suffer similar problems.

Pressure (P) –> Stress

If a stress is being applied to a community, it increases the flow enthalpy of the system to change/work, or even eventually explode.

Enthalpy (H) –> Agency

Enthalpy is defined as H= U+Pv, which when transferred to social space becomes the value set of a person (U) plus the stress and space (v) within which a person can work. Un-empathetic people have had the agency to act throughout history because they had the values, and sufficient stress combined with the space (freedom) to act.

Helmholtz energy (A) –> Maximum work that can be produced at constant entropy

The Helmholtz energy is defined as A=U-TS. In other words, have a strong value set with no resources or empathy. You become a conduit through which things efficiently flow with minimal entropy generation. This is the prime target of authoritarians and other low v-Meme individuals. The more information you collect about the situation (Q) and empathy you develop for the problem (S) the more difficult it becomes to enact the exchange. In traditional thermodynamics, the Helmholtz energy is the “useful work” that can be transferred from a system with constant temperature and volume. In other words, this is the goal of the “anti-empathy” movement — rational individuals that work hard to avoid empathizing with others due to the siphoning of resources involved.

Gibbs Energy (G) –> Potential for societal phase change

The Gibbs Energy is defined as:

G = U + Pv – TS.

Gibbs Energy describes the potential for a system to change. If the change in Gibbs free energy is negative, a system will spontaneously change. If positive, the system requires additional inputs to drive the change. Another way to look at this, the Gibbs energy of a saturated liquid and vapor (both on the verge of phase change) is identical. So if the Gibbs energy is the same for two different social states, change is already happening! The more negative the delta becomes, the more likely a cavoom, or disruptive phase change. But think about it — the perceived progress, stress, and density of a population is counterbalanced by the available energy/resources and the empathy of the group. As Chuck says, “There has never been an evolved democracy that has declared war on another evolved democracy.”

Keep in mind what we can actually measure about a society: population density, energy/resources, and may’be stress (happiness?). This is similar to what we can measure (T,rho,P) of thermodynamic systems. U, H, A, G, and S are relative to reference states.

The higher the energy (temperature) and empathy (entropy) of a system the smoother the changes and the less likely you are to have a disruptive flash phase change from liquid to vapor or vice-versa. See the Temperature vs. Entropy plot below generated from Nitrogen. Density increases as you go up and to the left along with pressure (stress), the opposite direction of entropy (empathy). The area to avoid is the lower left. The area we want is the upper right. Drawing these lines based on the physics/thermodynamics of real human systems is the challenge.

Entropy versus temperature

Others Connecting Gibbs Energy to Social Space

Attempting to merge the concept of Gibbs equilibrium in social sciences has been a common theme of physical-chemists. Frederick Rossini received the Priestley Medal in 1971 and offered an address, “Chemical Thermodynamics in the Real World“. Rossini equated the change in entropy to individual freedoms and the change in enthalpy over temperature to security.

Sociology Professor Kenneth D. Bailey in his book “Social Entropy Theory” used traditional thermodynamic arguments, and a traditional view of entropy to conclude that society was doomed to chaos. Physical Chemist, and former president of Illinois State University, Thomas P. Wallace’s book “Wealth, Energy, and Human Values: Dynamics of Decaying Civilizations from Ancient Greece to America,” took a similar dismal view.

Chemical Engineer Libb Thimms has compiled an incredibly sophisticated wiki, titled the Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics, of the historical works attempting to merge social systems and humans to thermodynamics. Libb concludes that humans actually are molecules, a complex 23 atom molecule. As LIbb’s cohort has shown, many have attempted, in many ways, to apply thermodynamics to social systems.

I found most of these other attempts to model the thermodynamics of social systems after I had the initial combination of internal energy as values and empathy as social entropy. Both of those connections appear to be new to this space. So I leave the following applications, and the determination of the veracity of this approach to you.



The first lecture of the rest of your life — Entropy, it’s irreversible.

“Classical thermodynamics is the only physical theory of universal content, which I am convinced, that within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts will never be overthrown.” ~ Albert Einstein

Once you know thermo, there is no going back. As we’ll discover, entropy is irreversible. There may not be another class that establishes both a direction for time, a potential for change, and the math behind needing to experience the material in many ways.

At the same time, there has never been a more urgent time in history to understand energy and the effects of it’s usage on the environment.

Suffice it to say, we need ALL of you leaving this class with a mastery of thermodynamics. And you are not enough, we need your families and friends as well.

It won’t be easy

Thermodynamics, as a field of study, has remained relatively bound by two universal physical laws for over a century. It is an incredibly well structured topic. It has also been historically used as a weed out class. I estimate that about 33% of students in my former classes haven’t made it to the end. So what I want to do is make a commitment to change that. Starting right now.

Please, grab a piece of paper and something to write with. Now stand up. Exchange your contact information with at least three of your new neighbors. By accepting their info, you are making a commitment to help them through the hard times — there will be many. You will need a circle of friends to do well in this class. Throughout the animal kingdom it is well known that animals who play together are smarter. The act of teaching something to someone likely helps the teacher as much, or even more than the students.  So I need you to help eachother as much as possible.

Now please, may I have a volunteer who is somewhat proficient with facebook? They will form the group and invite everyone. Over the years I’ve found that you are more successful when you have a forum to exchange concepts and ideas (not solutions). So we’re going to create a facebook group for this class for just you students. I found that Blackboard is terrible at facilitating duplex communications between students. But also found that you both gain more from helping eachother, and are faster to respond when someone is stuck on something (especially at 11 pm), than if you go through me. I’ve also found that you’re honest with eachother in these forums. I have not had problems with someone giving someone else a solution — I take great care in writing my own problems that are inherently interesting and relevant to our region.  So somebody is going to have to do them anyways, and giving a solution away is only enabling them to not learn the topic, which ends up hurting big time on the exams. Thermo is not that easy.

To ensure we break the habit of you coming to me for help instead of your classmates. I don’t hold office hours. I don’t give handouts. For more on this read my post “Don’t feed the bears of engineering education.” By helping yourselves to help eachother you will be more likely to survive the harsh reality of the working world. There is a recitation session on Tuesdays and Thursday from 4-6 in Sloan 175 for you to work together with your classmates (note the three exception days in the syllabus).  If you come to me with a question, I’ll ask you if you posted it to your classmates or a recitation time first. Note my cellphone number is on the syllabus should something extraordinary arise.

Over the course of this class you will literally be wiring your brain to see the world in an entirely different way. That’s not easy. I can’t just reach in and change your brain. Want to know thermo? I’ve got everything on a single page you’ll need. Here it is:

If it were only that easy! Thermodynamics itself explains how it’s going to take a lot of work to become efficient at this. At least the topics naturally build off of eachother. Everything is connected in thermo and I’ll teach you a process — that will stay very much the same over the course of the semester. You will have plenty of time to get comfortable with it. Let’s take a look at the ME 301 syllabus f2017.

To emphasize the PROCESS of solving thermodynamic problems, I use several tools that remove a lot of the busy work. Engineering Equation Solver (EES) greatly reduces time spent on problems. At the end of last spring I surveyed the class on whether to keep EES or use an alternative. 22 out of 23 said that we should keep EES even if it costs more. The bottom line is you will solve your problems faster, with fewer mistakes, and have more capabilities if you use EES in this class. For more on this read my post, “Calculators are Typewriters“.

So is the work worth it? I believe so and here is my commitment to you. I’ve tracked performance in thermodynamics on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam over the years. Here’s how students who’ve taken my thermo class have performed:

As you can see, something about the method I teach has caused the highest scores in thermo over the last decade, irregardless of overall exam performance, and are well above the national average. It should be emphasized that the way I teach is ENTIRELY different from the types of problems you’ll get on the FE exam. I only multiple choice with my 4 year old. So I understand this as people understanding the material.

A gateway to new opportunities

Most of my graduate students end up at Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ rocket company in Kent. Leaders from the thermo-fluids group are now using EES throughout the group and have told me they need many more employees trained with this capability. Blue is one of many that have told me this. This class will open up new job opportunities.

Over the course of this semester various student competition opportunities will come up. If you have the bandwidth and are willing, we have a substantial track record of students winning $1000’s of dollars and coming up with patentable concepts. So stay tuned for announcements.

This is going to be an adventure and you’re invited! But it won’t be easy. Once you know entropy, it’s irreversible.

Washington State University