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The body provides us with an excellent indication that many thermodynamic processes are irreversible . An irreversible process can go in one direction but not the reverse, under a given set of conditions. For example, although body fat can be converted to do work and produce heat transfer, work done on the body and heat transfer into it cannot be converted to body fat. Otherwise, we could skip lunch by sunning ourselves or by walking down stairs. Another example of an irreversible thermodynamic process is photosynthesis. This process is the intake of one form of energy—light—by plants and its conversion to chemical potential energy. Both applications of the first law of thermodynamics are illustrated in [link] . One great advantage of conservation laws such as the first law of thermodynamics is that they accurately describe the beginning and ending points of complex processes, such as metabolism and photosynthesis, without regard to the complications in between. [link] presents a summary of terms relevant to the first law of thermodynamics.

Part a of the figure is a pictorial representation of metabolism in a human body. The food is shown to enter the body as shown by a bold arrow toward the body. Work W and heat Q leave the body as shown by bold arrows pointing outward from the body. Delta U is shown as the stored food energy. Part b of the figure shows the metabolism in plants .The heat from the sunlight is shown to fall on a plant represented as Q in. The heat given out by the plant is shown as Q out by an arrow pointing away from the plant.
(a) The first law of thermodynamics applied to metabolism. Heat transferred out of the body ( Q size 12{Q} {} ) and work done by the body ( W size 12{W} {} ) remove internal energy, while food intake replaces it. (Food intake may be considered as work done on the body.) (b) Plants convert part of the radiant heat transfer in sunlight to stored chemical energy, a process called photosynthesis.
Summary of terms for the first law of thermodynamics, ΔU=Q−W
Term Definition
U size 12{U} {} Internal energy—the sum of the kinetic and potential energies of a system’s atoms and molecules. Can be divided into many subcategories, such as thermal and chemical energy. Depends only on the state of a system (such as its P size 12{P} {} , V size 12{V} {} , and T size 12{T} {} ), not on how the energy entered the system. Change in internal energy is path independent.
Q size 12{Q} {} Heat—energy transferred because of a temperature difference. Characterized by random molecular motion. Highly dependent on path. Q size 12{Q} {} entering a system is positive.
W size 12{W} {} Work—energy transferred by a force moving through a distance. An organized, orderly process. Path dependent. W size 12{W} {} done by a system (either against an external force or to increase the volume of the system) is positive.

Section summary

  • The first law of thermodynamics is given as Δ U = Q W size 12{ΔU=Q - W} {} , where Δ U size 12{ΔU} {} is the change in internal energy of a system, Q size 12{Q} {} is the net heat transfer (the sum of all heat transfer into and out of the system), and W size 12{W} {} is the net work done (the sum of all work done on or by the system).
  • Both Q size 12{Q} {} and W size 12{W} {} are energy in transit; only Δ U size 12{ΔU} {} represents an independent quantity capable of being stored.
  • The internal energy U size 12{U} {} of a system depends only on the state of the system and not how it reached that state.
  • Metabolism of living organisms, and photosynthesis of plants, are specialized types of heat transfer, doing work, and internal energy of systems.

Conceptual questions

Describe the photo of the tea kettle at the beginning of this section in terms of heat transfer, work done, and internal energy. How is heat being transferred? What is the work done and what is doing it? How does the kettle maintain its internal energy?

Questions & Answers

are nano particles real
Missy Reply
Hello, if I study Physics teacher in bachelor, can I study Nanotechnology in master?
Lale Reply
no can't
where we get a research paper on Nano chemistry....?
Maira Reply
nanopartical of organic/inorganic / physical chemistry , pdf / thesis / review
what are the products of Nano chemistry?
Maira Reply
There are lots of products of nano chemistry... Like nano coatings.....carbon fiber.. And lots of others..
Even nanotechnology is pretty much all about chemistry... Its the chemistry on quantum or atomic level
no nanotechnology is also a part of physics and maths it requires angle formulas and some pressure regarding concepts
Preparation and Applications of Nanomaterial for Drug Delivery
Hafiz Reply
Application of nanotechnology in medicine
has a lot of application modern world
what is variations in raman spectra for nanomaterials
Jyoti Reply
ya I also want to know the raman spectra
I only see partial conversation and what's the question here!
Crow Reply
what about nanotechnology for water purification
RAW Reply
please someone correct me if I'm wrong but I think one can use nanoparticles, specially silver nanoparticles for water treatment.
yes that's correct
I think
Nasa has use it in the 60's, copper as water purification in the moon travel.
nanocopper obvius
what is the stm
Brian Reply
is there industrial application of fullrenes. What is the method to prepare fullrene on large scale.?
industrial application...? mmm I think on the medical side as drug carrier, but you should go deeper on your research, I may be wrong
How we are making nano material?
what is a peer
What is meant by 'nano scale'?
What is STMs full form?
scanning tunneling microscope
how nano science is used for hydrophobicity
Do u think that Graphene and Fullrene fiber can be used to make Air Plane body structure the lightest and strongest. Rafiq
what is differents between GO and RGO?
what is simplest way to understand the applications of nano robots used to detect the cancer affected cell of human body.? How this robot is carried to required site of body cell.? what will be the carrier material and how can be detected that correct delivery of drug is done Rafiq
analytical skills graphene is prepared to kill any type viruses .
Any one who tell me about Preparation and application of Nanomaterial for drug Delivery
what is Nano technology ?
Bob Reply
write examples of Nano molecule?
The nanotechnology is as new science, to scale nanometric
nanotechnology is the study, desing, synthesis, manipulation and application of materials and functional systems through control of matter at nanoscale
Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
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Source:  OpenStax, College physics: physics of california. OpenStax CNX. Sep 30, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11577/1.1
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