Order and disorder  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In physics, the terms order and disorder designate the presence or absence of some symmetry or correlation in a many-particle system.

In condensed matter physics, systems typically are ordered at low temperatures; upon heating, they undergo one or several phase transitions into less ordered states. Examples for such an order-disorder transition are:

  • the melting of ice: solid-liquid transition, loss of crystalline order;
  • the demagnetization of iron by heating above the Curie temperature: ferromagnetic-paramagnetic transition, loss of magnetic order.

The degree of freedom that is ordered or disordered can be translational (crystalline ordering), rotational (ferroelectric ordering), or a spin state (magnetic ordering).

The order can consist either in a full crystalline space group symmetry, or in a correlation. Depending on how the correlations decay with distance, one speaks of long-range order or short-range order.

If a disordered state is not in thermodynamic equilibrium, one speaks of quenched disorder. For instance, a glass is obtained by quenching (supercooling) a liquid. By extension, other quenched states are called spin glass, orientational glass. In some contexts, the opposite of quenched disorder is annealed disorder.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Order and disorder" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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