Thermodynamics is a branch of physics which deals with the energy
and work of a system. It was born in the 19th century as scientists
were first discovering how to build and operate steam engines.
Thermodynamics deals only with the
large scale response
of a system
which we can observe and measure in experiments. Small scale gas
interactions are described by the kinetic
theory of gases.
The methods compliment each other; some principles are more easily
understood in terms of thermodynamics and some principles are more
easily explained by kinetic theory.
There are three principal laws of thermodynamics which are
described on separate slides. Each law leads to the definition of
thermodynamic properties which help us to
understand and predict the operation of a physical system. We will
present some simple examples of these laws and properties for a
variety of physical systems, although we are
most interested in thermodynamics in the study of
systems and high speed flows.
Fortunately, many of the classical examples of thermodynamics involve gas
dynamics. Unfortunately, the numbering system for the three laws of
thermodynamics is a bit confusing. We begin with the zeroth law.
The zeroth law of thermodynamics
involves some simple definitions of thermodynamic equilibrium.
Thermodynamic equilibrium leads to the large scale definition of
temperature, as opposed to the small scale
definition related to the kinetic energy of the molecules. The
first law of thermodynamics relates the
various forms of kinetic and potential energy in a system to the
work which a system can perform and to the
transfer of heat. This law is sometimes taken
as the definition of internal energy, and introduces an additional
state variable, enthalpy.
The first law
of thermodynamics allows for many possible states of a system to
exist. But experience indicates that only certain states occur. This
leads to the
of thermodynamics and the definition of
another state variable called
The second law stipulates that the total entropy of a system plus its
environment can not decrease; it can remain constant for a reversible
process but must always increase for an irreversible process.
Temperature and Kinetic Energy Activity: Grade 8-9
Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Home