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There must be reasons that real macroscopic processes cannot be reversible. We can imagine them going in reverse. For example, heat transfer occurs spontaneously from hot to cold and never spontaneously the reverse. Yet it would not violate the first law of thermodynamics for this to happen. In fact, all spontaneous processes, such as bubbles bursting, never go in reverse. There is a second thermodynamic law that forbids them from going in reverse. When we study this law, we will learn something about nature and also find that such a law limits the efficiency of heat engines. We will find that heat engines with the greatest possible theoretical efficiency would have to use reversible processes, and even they cannot convert all heat transfer into doing work. [link] summarizes the simpler thermodynamic processes and their definitions.

Summary of simple thermodynamic processes
Isobaric Constant pressure W = P Δ V size 12{W=PΔV} {}
Isochoric Constant volume W = 0 size 12{W=0} {}
Isothermal Constant temperature Q = W size 12{Q=W} {}
Adiabatic No heat transfer Q = 0 size 12{Q=0} {}

Phet explorations: states of matter

Watch different types of molecules form a solid, liquid, or gas. Add or remove heat and watch the phase change. Change the temperature or volume of a container and see a pressure-temperature diagram respond in real time. Relate the interaction potential to the forces between molecules.

States of Matter

Section summary

  • One of the important implications of the first law of thermodynamics is that machines can be harnessed to do work that humans previously did by hand or by external energy supplies such as running water or the heat of the Sun. A machine that uses heat transfer to do work is known as a heat engine.
  • There are several simple processes, used by heat engines, that flow from the first law of thermodynamics. Among them are the isobaric, isochoric, isothermal and adiabatic processes.
  • These processes differ from one another based on how they affect pressure, volume, temperature, and heat transfer.
  • If the work done is performed on the outside environment, work ( W size 12{W} {} ) will be a positive value. If the work done is done to the heat engine system, work ( W size 12{W} {} ) will be a negative value.
  • Some thermodynamic processes, including isothermal and adiabatic processes, are reversible in theory; that is, both the thermodynamic system and the environment can be returned to their initial states. However, because of loss of energy owing to the second law of thermodynamics, complete reversibility does not work in practice.

Conceptual questions

A great deal of effort, time, and money has been spent in the quest for the so-called perpetual-motion machine, which is defined as a hypothetical machine that operates or produces useful work indefinitely and/or a hypothetical machine that produces more work or energy than it consumes. Explain, in terms of heat engines and the first law of thermodynamics, why or why not such a machine is likely to be constructed.

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One method of converting heat transfer into doing work is for heat transfer into a gas to take place, which expands, doing work on a piston, as shown in the figure below. (a) Is the heat transfer converted directly to work in an isobaric process, or does it go through another form first? Explain your answer. (b) What about in an isothermal process? (c) What about in an adiabatic process (where heat transfer occurred prior to the adiabatic process)?

Figure a shows a piston attached to a movable cylinder which is attached to the right of another gas filled cylinder. The heat Q sub in is shown to be transferred to the gas in the cylinder as shown by a bold arrow toward it. The force of the gas on the moving cylinder with the piston is shown as F equals P times A shown as a vector arrow pointing toward the right. The change in internal energy is marked in the diagram as delta U sub a equals Q sub in. Figure b shows a piston attached to a movable cylinder which is attached to the right of another gas filled cylinder. The force of the gas has moved the cylinder with the piston by a distance d toward the right. The change in internal energy is marked in the diagram as delta U sub b equals negative W sub out. The piston is shown to have done work by change in position, marked as F d equal to W sub out. Figure c shows a piston attached to a movable cylinder which is attached to the right of another gas filled cylinder. The piston attached to the cylinder is shown to reach back to the initial position shown in figure a. The distance d is traveled back and heat Q sub out is shown to leave the system as represented by an outward arrow. The force driving backward is shown as a vector arrow pointing to the left, labeled F prime. F prime is shown less than F. The work done by the force F prime is shown by the equation W sub in equal to F prime times d.
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Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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