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Ludwig BoltzmannThe Man Who Trusted Atoms$
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Carlo Cercignani

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780198570646

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198570646.001.0001

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Kinetic theory before Boltzmann

Kinetic theory before Boltzmann

(p.71) 3 Kinetic theory before Boltzmann
Ludwig Boltzmann


Oxford University Press

The first atomic theory is credited to Democritus of Abdera, who lived in the 5th century BC. The actual development of the kinetic theory of gases accordingly took place much later, in the 19th century. With his transfer equations, James Clerk Maxwell had come very close to an evolution equation for the distribution function, but this last step must beyond any doubt be credited to Ludwig Boltzmann. The equation under consideration is usually called the Boltzmann equation, but sometimes the Maxwell-Boltzmann equation. Rudolf Clausius took kinetic theory to a mature stage with the explicit recognition that thermal energy is but the kinetic energy of the random motion of the molecules and the explanation of the first law of thermodynamics in kinetic terms. In any case there remained the important unsolved problem of deducing the second law of thermodynamics, the basis of the modern idea of irreversibility in physical processes.

Keywords:   kinetic theory, atomic theory, Democritus of Abdera, James Clerk Maxwell, Rudolf Clausius, Boltzmann equation, molecules, irreversibility, thermal energy, thermodynamics

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