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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Distinguish between spontaneous and nonspontaneous processes
  • Describe the dispersal of matter and energy that accompanies certain spontaneous processes

In this section, consider the differences between two types of changes in a system: Those that occur spontaneously and those that occur by force. In doing so, we’ll gain an understanding as to why some systems are naturally inclined to change in one direction under certain conditions and how relatively quickly or slowly that natural change proceeds. We’ll also gain insight into how the spontaneity of a process affects the distribution of energy and matter within the system.

Spontaneous and nonspontaneous processes

Processes have a natural tendency to occur in one direction under a given set of conditions. Water will naturally flow downhill, but uphill flow requires outside intervention such as the use of a pump. Iron exposed to the earth’s atmosphere will corrode, but rust is not converted to iron without intentional chemical treatment. A spontaneous process    is one that occurs naturally under certain conditions. A nonspontaneous process    , on the other hand, will not take place unless it is “driven” by the continual input of energy from an external source. A process that is spontaneous in one direction under a particular set of conditions is nonspontaneous in the reverse direction. At room temperature and typical atmospheric pressure, for example, ice will spontaneously melt, but water will not spontaneously freeze.

The spontaneity of a process is not correlated to the speed of the process. A spontaneous change may be so rapid that it is essentially instantaneous or so slow that it cannot be observed over any practical period of time. To illustrate this concept, consider the decay of radioactive isotopes, a topic more thoroughly treated in the chapter on nuclear chemistry. Radioactive decay is by definition a spontaneous process in which the nuclei of unstable isotopes emit radiation as they are converted to more stable nuclei. All the decay processes occur spontaneously, but the rates at which different isotopes decay vary widely. Technetium-99m is a popular radioisotope for medical imaging studies that undergoes relatively rapid decay and exhibits a half-life of about six hours. Uranium-238 is the most abundant isotope of uranium, and its decay occurs much more slowly, exhibiting a half-life of more than four billion years ( [link] ).

A graph of two lines is shown where the y-axis is labeled, “amount of isotope remaining ( percent sign ),” and has values zero through one hundred, in increments of ten, written along the axis. The x-axis is labeled, “time ( days )” and has values zero through seven, in increments of one, written along the axis. The first graph, drawn with a blue line, begins at the top left value of one hundred on the y-axis and zero on the x-axis and falls steeply over the first three minutes, then the graphed line becomes almost horizontal until it reaches seven minutes on the x-axis. The second graph, drawn in red, begins at the same point as the first, but remains perfectly horizontal with no change along the y-axis. A legend labels the red line as, “U dash 238,” and the blue line as,
Both U-238 and Tc-99m undergo spontaneous radioactive decay, but at drastically different rates. Over the course of one week, essentially all of a Tc-99m sample and none of a U-238 sample will have decayed.

As another example, consider the conversion of diamond into graphite ( [link] ).

C ( s , diamond ) C ( s , graphite )

The phase diagram for carbon indicates that graphite is the stable form of this element under ambient atmospheric pressure, while diamond is the stable allotrope at very high pressures, such as those present during its geologic formation. Thermodynamic calculations of the sort described in the last section of this chapter indicate that the conversion of diamond to graphite at ambient pressure occurs spontaneously, yet diamonds are observed to exist, and persist, under these conditions. Though the process is spontaneous under typical ambient conditions, its rate is extremely slow, and so for all practical purposes diamonds are indeed “forever.” Situations such as these emphasize the important distinction between the thermodynamic and the kinetic aspects of a process. In this particular case, diamonds are said to be thermodynamically unstable but kinetically stable under ambient conditions.

Questions & Answers

what is chemistry?
Archie Reply
forms of biotechnology
Ocheme Reply
What is a mole?
Henry Reply
pls give me 3 type of transition metal
Destiny Reply
Copper, Scandium, Vanadium, Iron, Chromium, Cobalt
Jumaane-Kalif
ion zinc hydrogen
Abdul
that is not true
Jumaane-Kalif
stop posting foolishness
Jumaane-Kalif
how do I name compounds
Stanley Reply
depends on the compound. as you may know there's transition metal compounds and there's organic compounds and so on and so forth.
Jumaane-Kalif
what is electricity
Lorrita Reply
electricity refers to the flow electrons
John
Hi. please can you tell me more on chemical equation
Gift Reply
When 1 or 2 chemicals react, they rearrange their atomic composition forming new compounds. The total mass before and after is the same/ constant. Chemical equations of same reactants react in same ratios e.g. 1 Na ion reacts with 1 water molecule or a multipier like 1 mole of Na ions react with 1
Abdelkarim
Mole of water molecules. In that example we multipied by 6.02*10^23 or avogadro constant (L). Or 2 Na+ ions with two water molecules. The arrow means '' to form '' Some times conditions or reactants are written above the arrow like H+ or enzyme or temper, sometimes physical states are written
Abdelkarim
Beside the chemical Aqueous (aq) which means solute dissolved on water. Solid (s) etc Some chemical equations are written next to it ΔH= # which means enthalpy change which describes if the reaction is endothermic (+) or exothermic (-).
Abdelkarim
Some are reversible and have half double arrow sign.
Abdelkarim
what is the meaning of atoma
Ibrahim Reply
what is theory
Michael Reply
what is chemical compound
Lorrita
A compound is the result of chemical bonding between 2 or more different elements.
Abdelkarim
Why is an atom electrically neutral?
Clara
the same number of electron , proton present in an atom.thats why it is electrically neutral
debibandita
difference between Amine and amide
Amadu Reply
what is the difference between alkanal and alkanone
Amadu
difference between alkanol and alkanal
Michael
whaatt
Saturday
you are not well at all
Ibrahim
is organic compounds used for drying agent
Olawale Reply
Sulfuric acid is used as a drying agent.
Abdelkarim
what is an atom
John Reply
An atom is the smallest part of an element, for instance gold atoms are the smallest part of gold that can enter a reaction. An atom must consist protons and electrons of equal number. You can think of those subatomic particles as spheres, but not orbiting randomly they move in specific way in
Abdelkarim
That was partially described mathematically. As a muslim, we believe that god created all matter from nothing. He is the Able, and only who can create matter in the begging in the big bang that was described in the Quran in chapter 17 verse 30, 1400 years ago, you can read it from internet.
Abdelkarim
what is electron affinity
John
do you have a private jet
Ibrahim
what is acid
Olubodun Reply
Proton donor (H+). Like in lemons, oranges and some medicines.
Abdelkarim
what is titration? and how can i get my readings?
favor Reply
what is electrolysis?
favor Reply
what is the formula you use when calculating for gas law?
favor
PV=nrt
Farid
electro-means electricity while lysis-means splitting up so electrolysis simply means splitting up by means of electric current
John
good day. how may I see previous question asked in this chat, please?
Asha
Asha, A person named Favor asked what is meant by the term electrolysis
John
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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