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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

How to know periodic table oftend
Ahmed Reply
how to get atomic number of an element
Ogunleye Reply
how do you solve the examples in a much more explanatory way
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Explain this paragraph in short
Manish Reply
What is solid state?
Manish Reply
What is chemical reaction
transforming reactants to product(s)
Example of Lewis acid
Chidera Reply
Example of Lewis acid
Anything with an empty orbital... the hydrogen ion is the most common example. BH3 is the typical example, but any metal in a coordination complex can be considered a Lewis acid.
okay thanks
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulfide.How many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide
Soni Reply
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulphide how many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide?
aluminium and sulphur react to give aluminium sulphide how many grams of Al are required to produce 100g of aluminium sulphide?
150 comes from?
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Why can't atom be created or destroyed
Jacaranda Reply
matter simply converts to pure energy
explain how to distinguish ethanol from a sample of ethanoic acid by chemical test
Alice Reply
explain how ethanol can be distinguished from ethanoic acid by chemical test
Using a suitable experiment, describe how diffusion occurs in gases.
Melody Reply
what is electrolytes?
charity Reply
substance which splits into ions during melting or dissolving
on passing electric current though electrode
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Jacob Reply
State that use law of partial pressure in a gas jar containing a gas and water what is the total pressure composed of 272cm^3 of carbon (iv) oxide were collected over water at15°c and 782mmHg pressure. calculate the volume of the dry gas at stp(SVP of water at 15°c is 12mmHg)
Aminat Reply
was Dalton's second postulate"atoms of the same kind have have similar/same mass and size" Or " the one mentioned in B here?
Maureen Reply
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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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