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Kirchhoff’s Law of Thermal Emission: Nothing but an Illusion

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By Pierre-Marie Robitaille, Department of Radiology and Chemical Physics Program, The Ohio State University, Columbus, US, and Stephen J. Crothers, QLD, Australia

Strangely, ideas can become so engrained in our consciousness that we can fail to question their validity, even when confronted with obvious contradictions. Such is the case with Kirchhoff’s Law of Thermal Emission.

Gustav Kirchhoff is well known for his laws of current at each node (Σiin = Σiout) and voltage for each loop (ΣV = 0). However, his Law of Thermal Emission is less familiar to the electronics community. Yet the law has become a cornerstone of modern physics, despite modern technology refuting it daily.

The consequences are profound, impacting not only upon microwave communications but virtually every aspect of physics, from the nature of fundamental units, to condensed matter, to the stars and the Big Bang. In all of this, electrical engineers hold the key.

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