How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 571

Could you slow down the molecules to cool food quickly instead of heating it up?
Heat naturally flows from hotter objects to colder objects. As a result, you can heat food by putting it in hotter surroundings and cool food by putting it in colder surroundings. However, you can also heat food by converting an ordered form of energy into thermal energy, right inside the food. For example, microwaves can penetrate the food and their energy can become thermal energy inside the food, speeding up the cooking process.

However, there is no analogous way to reach inside the food and extract its thermal energy. You must wait for the thermal energy inside the food to drift to its surface and to be transferred to the colder surroundings. This requirement is the result of the laws of thermodynamics, which govern the interconversions of work and heat. While it's easy to turn mechanical work into heat (just rub your hands together), it's very difficult to turn heat into work. Because of this difficulty, thermal energy must usually be transferred elsewhere. You can't build a "microwave refrigerator" that turns thermal energy into microwaves inside the food.


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