In physics, thermalization (in Commonwealth English "thermalisation") is the process of physical bodies reaching thermal equilibrium through mutual interaction. In general the natural tendency of a system is towards a state of equipartition of energy and uniform temperature that maximizes the system's entropy. Thermalization, thermal equilibrium, and temperature are therefore important fundamental concepts within statistical physics, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics; all of which are a basis for many other specific fields of scientific understanding and engineering application.
Examples of thermalization include:
- the achievement of equilibrium in a plasma.
- the process undergone by high-energy neutrons as they lose energy by collision with a moderator.
The hypothesis, foundational to most introductory textbooks treating quantum statistical mechanics, assumes that systems go to thermal equilibrium (thermalization). The process of thermalization erases local memory of the initial conditions. The eigenstate thermalization hypothesis is a hypothesis about when quantum states will undergo thermalization and why.
Not all quantum states undergo thermalization. Some states have been discovered which do not, and their reasons for not reaching thermal equilibrium are unclear as of March 2019[update].
Systems resisting thermalization
- Quantum scars, quantum states with likelihoods of undergoing classical periodic orbits much higher than one would intuitively predict from quantum mechanics
- Many body localization (MLB), quantum many-body systems retaining memory of their initial condition in local observables for arbitrary amounts of time.
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