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A burning candle wick is a model of living system

HomepageINSTITUTE of Physico-Chemical Problems of EvolutionBiological Evolution and AgingA burning candle wick is a model of living system

G.P. Gladyshev


The wick of burning candle can be modeled as a quasi-closed, i.e. semi-closed, quasi-equilibrium thermodynamic system, the chemical composition of which is changed slowly during the course of its evolution. The evolution of composition and structure of wick, as a reactive system, is analogous, in a primitive way, to the evolution of the composition and structure of a hierarchical living systems, both of which evolve in the direction that tends to minimize the Gibbs free energy (the spesific Gibbs function) of formation of each structure.


The properties of living things are the outcome of their chemical and physical composition and configuration.

Thomas Hunt Morgan


Aging of an organism and a candle wick


People often use chemical analogies to describe life. Some, for example, speak of being burned out in life, while others speak of having found a burning passion in pursuit of an object or in union with another. In this direction, the ignition, combustion, thermodynamics, composition change, and chemical evolution of a candle wick, which is a capillary structure that produces heat and, in some cases, work by transporting fuel through itself, can be used as a model of human life, and as such may provide insight into the various burning or burned out analogies used in life.

In 1861, Michael Faraday, in his Chemical History of the Candle , spoke of a living process of combustion, in human life, going on very similar to that of a candle and mentioned the very beauty and life of the flame.

Michael Faraday Faraday (1791-1867)The title page of The Chemical History of a Candle (1861) The title page of The Chemical History of a Candle (1861)

In particular, to characterize the heating dynamics of life, Faraday wrote: In every one of us there is a living process of combustion going on very similar to that of a candle, and I must try to make that plain to you. For it is not merely true in a poetical sense - the relation of the life of man to a taper (wick); and if you will follow, I think I can make this clear. In a modern sense, a closer analysis shows this approximation to be very accurate.

Hereinafter many scientists studied the phenomenon of life and compared it with the steady-state processes of a candle burning, often comparing the burning of candle with the burning or combustion of food (fuel) in the living organisms. This analogy is a very reasonable and illustrative .

This wick-model is definitively a simple steady-state model of combustion or of the processes of food burning in the living organisms. In the system of the candle, the structure of the wick is typically braded cotton which is treated in with various flame-retardant solutions in a process known as mordanting. It sometimes contains a containing a zinc or lead core. Cotton fiber, itself, once it has been processed to remove seeds and traces of wax, protein, etc., consists of nearly pure cellulose, (C 6 H 10 O 5 ) n , a polysaccharide of beta-glucose, which is a natural polymer. In a similar manner, the wax, i.e. the fuel that flow through the structure of the wick, is typically an ester of ethylene glycol (ethan-1,2-diol) and two fatty acids, as opposed to a fat which is an ester of glycerin (propan-1,2,3-triol) and three fatty acids. It may also be a combination of other fatty alcohols with fatty acids. It is a type of lipid. When the liquid fuel of candle reaches the flame it then vaporizes and burns. The products of burning are 2 , 2 O and others relatively stable substances.

Strictly speaking, when comparing the dynamics of the wick to the dynamics of a human, we are using a system model of the internal burning processes of non-animate matter as an analog to the food burning in the living organisms.

When studying the evolutionary development of organisms from the viewpoint of hierarchical thermodynamics closed near to equilibrium dynamical systems, however, one should also study, in a comparative manner, the non-steady-state aging of cells, organisms, populations and systems of others hierarchies as the quasi-closed ( semi-closed ) quasi-equilibrium dynamical systems . so as to study the evolution of composition and structure of each biosystems. This statement allows us to use the model of equilibrium (quasi-equilibrium) chromatographic column for the investigation of evolutional changing of living system . It is obvious that the candlewick (our evolutionary system, where the steady-state process of burning takes place ) is the analog of chromatographic column model. In this system, however, the composition and structure are changed in the non-steady-state regime.

Thus, the composition and structure of the candlewick is dynamically evolving in a manner similar to that in which a living system evolves.

In the processes of the evolution, from the viewpoint of supramolecular structure stability tendencies, the candlewick is upgraded by the most stable non-flying (non-volatile) products of burning. Over time, the material of wick is made fragile and, eventually, it or the tip of the wick is broke.

A new fragment of a wick, however, may appear on the burned part of the wick and, subsequently, the process of wick aging' may be extended.

It is clear, subsequently, that the evolution of a periodical renewed wick, in the system of the candle, can be approximately likened to ontogenesis and phylogenies of living beings as the thermodynamic quasi-closed quasi-equilibrium systems . The recent publication a Thermodynamic Theory of the Evolution of Living Beings argues that the evolution of living beings is governed by the tendency for quasi-equilibrium , semi-closed, hierarchical living systems to evolve in the direction that tends to minimize the Gibbs free energy of formation of each structure. As such, the chemical evolution dynamics that take place within the structure of the wick will do so in such a manner that the Gibbs free energy of its structural composition tends to a minimum, as is the case with all isothermal, isobaric chemically reactive systems.

One can also discusses others examples which, like the burning of candlewick, imitate the evolution of living systems . Another example is the evolution process involved in the structural change of a burning cigarette. In this case, we have the evolution of the composition and structure of cigarette column that burns and is turned into ash. This ash can is characterized as a high supramolecular or supra-atomic highly stable structure.

A lit filtered cigarette will burn to ash from one end.

A lit filtered cigarette will burn to ash from one end.

The models discussed here, of course, are only approximate models. These models, however, are the very illustrative and correct from the point of view of the hierarchical thermodynamics of systems, which can be applied to evolution of both non-alive and alive systems. These models are applicable to all hierarchies of living matter. The living systems can be investigated as the summations (aggregates, complexes) of micro-chromatographic cells (columns), the composition of stationary phases of which each evolves on comparatively long time-scales in the closed to equilibrium regimes.

Unlike of the well-known models, which compare the steady-state processes of burning or oxidization in living and non-living systems, our models are connected with evolution the composition and structure change in non-steady-state systems . It is clear, then, that the evolution of any system is a non-steady-state process .

The presented models are well-confirmed and, in conclusion, the description of the evolution of living beings, via ontogenesis and phylogenies, can be structured on the foundation of author's 1977 hierarchical thermodynamics, which itself was created on the strong basis of the classical sciences that sprouted from ages.

Citations and Illustrations

M. Faraday, "The chemical history of a candle" 1861 / , ., . " ", 1980.

5Figure of Michel Faraday

I have a drawing here, sketched many years ago by Hooker, when he made his investigations. It is the drawing of the flame of a lamp, but it will apply to the flame of a candle. The cup of the candle is the vessel or lamp; the melted spermaceti is the oil; and the wick is common to both.

Michael Faraday

Georgi Pavlovich Gladyshev , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Gladyshev http://www.humanthermodynamics.com/index.html http://www.humanthermodynamics.com/HT-history.html

Libb Thims, Human Chemistry, USA , 2007 Libb Thims , iUniverse



Candle wick , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle_wick

A candle wick is a wick specifically adapted for use in a candle . A candle wick works by providing a mechanism , known as capillary action , to transport the fuel , typically melted candle wax , to the flame. When the liquid fuel reaches the flame it then vaporizes and burns.

Candle , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candle

A candle is a light source usually consisting of an internal wick that rises through the center of a column of solid fuel . Prior to the mid 19th century, the majority of candles were tallow (a byproduct of beef fat rendering). The fuel now is nearly always some form of wax , with paraffin wax being the most common. Gel, soy, beeswax, and vegetable-based candles are also available. A candle manufacturer is usually known as a chandler .

A close-up image of a candle showing the wick and the various regions of the flame. Note the truncated wick being consumed at the lower-right edge of the flame.Floating candles

A close-up image of a candle showing the wick and the various regions of the flame. Note the truncated wick being consumed at the lower-right edge of the flame.

Cigarette, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette

A cigarette (from French: cigarette for little cigar ) is a product consumed via smoking and manufactured out of cured and finely cut tobacco leaves, which are combined with other additives including nicotine , then rolled or stuffed into a paper-wrapped cylinder. It has no known health benefits, but has been proven to be addictive , a cause of lung cancer , and birth defects .

Chromatography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatography

Chromatogram with two resolved peaks

A chromatogram is the visual output of the chromatograph. Different peaks or patterns on the chromatogram correspond to different components of the separated mixture

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