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Entropy & Student Mess

Entropy & Student Mess

By N. Tropy and H.L. Hole
Dept of Chaotic Studies, University of Sodbury.

This project intends to show how study of student habitation can provide clear support for the second law of thermodynamics. The change in percentage of visible floor area of a typical student room, when exposed to a typical student, is measured and related to entropy.


Entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system. Something that is highly ordered has lower entropy than something that is more chaotic in structure. So the mixture of 1½ measure melon liqueur, ½ measure overproof white rum, ½ measure lime juice, ¼ measure pineapple syrup and 1½ measure lemonade, commonly, although erroneously, known as a ‘Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster’ (Cross 1995)1, has greater entropy than the same amounts of these liquids kept in separate receptacles.

The second law of thermodynamics is mathematically written as: S = (klnΩ).
Here k is Boltzmann’s constant, and is the ‘density of states’, a function that represents the degeneracy of the system. Crystal clear... isn’t it?

The second law of thermodynamics also states that heat cannot pass from a colder body to a hotter body. In more general terms this means that energy (heat) will naturally disperse from areas of high energy to areas of low energy. A colder body is more ordered than a hotter body, so heat passing from a cooler to a hotter body would be a decrease in entropy, which is not permitted. It turns out that this law has considerable implications for the workings of the Universe, one of which being that entropy will always increase, or things will get more random.

Doom and gloom
Since entropy always increases, it is theorised that the Universe may one day reach a state of maximum entropy, the point at which all energy is equally dispersed across the Universe, and nothing can change - at this point, the Universe becomes rather boring.

This is referred to as the ‘heat death of the Universe’ (since at this point the whole Universe would be at a constant, equal temperature), and will, in theory, occur if the lifetime of the Universe is infinite. ‘Heat death’ is as bad as it sounds, if not worse.

Well known for their general untidiness, students are perfect specimens for the study of the second law of thermodynamics (and it’s implications for entropy). The identity of our study specimen has been withheld out of concerns that he’ll never get a girlfriend if this gets out.


We randomly selected an empty room in university halls of residence. The Spartan nature of the furnishings, along with the general prison-cell nature of the room, indicated a very low level of entropy within the room (Figure 1).

A typical student, obtained very cheaply (cost: two lagers and a kebab) from a nearby drinking hell-pit, was introduced into the room and monitored for one week. The initial introduction occurred at 17:00 on Sunday 24th June 2004. Photographs were then taken at 5pm every day for the next 7 days. The percentage of floor area visible to the naked eye (A) was then found using a protractor, a set-square and a bit of guesswork. It is theorised that: A α 1/Ω
So we expect A to decrease as entropy increases.


The deterioration of the room from order to chaos, indicating a dispersion of energy is plainly evident from Figure 2a-c.

The percentage of the floor area visible to the naked eye (Figure 3) clearly shows an exponential decay over time, just as we’d expect in accordance with the dissipation of energy predicted by the second law of thermodynamics. Discussion

The result clearly supports the second law of thermodynamics, and by extension the theory that the heat death of the universe is likely to come to pass and we are all doomed2.

It is also noted that, should the student tidy the bedroom, there is likely to be an increase in visible floor area, however this has never been seen and it is likely that such things simply do not occur in our universe. Indeed, this experiment suggests that, if the room were an entirely isolated system, a tidy student would be in violation of the laws of physics.

When shown to an expert Mess and Untidiness Monitor, Figure 2c provoked the verbal reaction ‘that room looks like a bomb’s hit it’ (M.U.M. pers comm., see also Mimsy-Quim 1987). We plan to test this assertion and have begun construction of a low-yield nuclear device.


The authors thank the anonymous volunteer: Cheers Phil.



Anon. (1978). In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Ed. D. Adams.

Cross, R. (1995). The Classic 1000 Cocktails.

Mimsy-Quim. (1987). A comparison of historical disaster areas and teenage living quarters: give me Krakatoa any day. Good Housekeeping Magazine 10.5, 6-102.

1The true Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster contains, amongst other ingredients, Arcturan Mega-gin, the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger, Fallian marsh gas and an olive. The effects of the drink have been likened to having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick (Anon, 1978).

2This may not occur if the lifetime of the Universe is not infinite, however if the Universe ever ends we are all doomed anyway.

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01 Mar 2009
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