Dynamics of a massive piston in an ideal gas: Oscillatory motion and approach to equilibrium

N. Chernov, J. L. Lebowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


We study numerically and theoretically (on a heuristic level) the time evolution of a gas confined to a cube of size L3 divided into two parts by a piston with mass ML ∼ L2 which can only move in the x-direction. Starting with a uniform "double-peaked" (non Maxwellian) distribution of the gas and a stationary piston, we find that (a) after an initial quiescent period the system becomes unstable and the piston performs a damped oscillatory motion, and (b) there is a thermalization of the system leading to a Maxwellian distribution of the gas velocities. The time of the onset of the instability appears to grow like L log L while the relaxation time to the Maxwellian grows like L7/2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-527
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Statistical Physics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics


  • Ideal gas
  • Mechanical equilibrium
  • Oscillations
  • Piston
  • Thermodynamical equilibrium


Dive into the research topics of 'Dynamics of a massive piston in an ideal gas: Oscillatory motion and approach to equilibrium'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this