Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
College Physics

Conceptual Questions

College PhysicsConceptual Questions

15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics


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?


The first law of thermodynamics and the conservation of energy, as discussed in Conservation of Energy, are clearly related. How do they differ in the types of energy considered?


Heat transfer QQ size 12{Q} {} and work done WW size 12{W} {} are always energy in transit, whereas internal energy UU size 12{U} {} is energy stored in a system. Give an example of each type of energy, and state specifically how it is either in transit or resides in a system.


How do heat transfer and internal energy differ? In particular, which can be stored as such in a system and which cannot?


If you run down some stairs and stop, what happens to your kinetic energy and your initial gravitational potential energy?


Give an explanation of how food energy (calories) can be viewed as molecular potential energy (consistent with the atomic and molecular definition of internal energy).


Identify the type of energy transferred to your body in each of the following as either internal energy, heat transfer, or doing work: (a) basking in sunlight; (b) eating food; (c) riding an elevator to a higher floor.

15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes


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.


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.
Figure 15.40

Would the previous question make any sense for an isochoric process? Explain your answer.


We ordinarily say that ΔU=0ΔU=0 size 12{DU=0} {} for an isothermal process. Does this assume no phase change takes place? Explain your answer.


The temperature of a rapidly expanding gas decreases. Explain why in terms of the first law of thermodynamics. (Hint: Consider whether the gas does work and whether heat transfer occurs rapidly into the gas through conduction.)


Which cyclical process represented by the two closed loops, ABCFA and ABDEA, on the PVPV size 12{ ital "PV"} {} diagram in the figure below produces the greatest net work? Is that process also the one with the smallest work input required to return it to point A? Explain your responses.

The figure shows a graph of pressure versus volume. The pressure is along the Y axis and the volume is plotted along the X axis. The graph consists of a rectangle, A B C F, superimposed on a slightly larger rectangle, A B D E. The lines A B, C F, and D E are parallel to the X axis and lines B C D and A F E are parallel to the Y axis.
Figure 15.41 The two cyclical processes shown on this PV PV diagram start with and return the system to the conditions at point A, but they follow different paths and produce different amounts of work.

A real process may be nearly adiabatic if it occurs over a very short time. How does the short time span help the process to be adiabatic?


It is unlikely that a process can be isothermal unless it is a very slow process. Explain why. Is the same true for isobaric and isochoric processes? Explain your answer.

15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency


Imagine you are driving a car up Pike’s Peak in Colorado. To raise a car weighing 1000 kilograms a distance of 100 meters would require about a million joules. You could raise a car 12.5 kilometers with the energy in a gallon of gas. Driving up Pike's Peak (a mere 3000-meter climb) should consume a little less than a quart of gas. But other considerations have to be taken into account. Explain, in terms of efficiency, what factors may keep you from realizing your ideal energy use on this trip.


Is a temperature difference necessary to operate a heat engine? State why or why not.


Definitions of efficiency vary depending on how energy is being converted. Compare the definitions of efficiency for the human body and heat engines. How does the definition of efficiency in each relate to the type of energy being converted into doing work?


Why—other than the fact that the second law of thermodynamics says reversible engines are the most efficient—should heat engines employing reversible processes be more efficient than those employing irreversible processes? Consider that dissipative mechanisms are one cause of irreversibility.

15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated


Think about the drinking bird at the beginning of this section (Figure 15.21). Although the bird enjoys the theoretical maximum efficiency possible, if left to its own devices over time, the bird will cease “drinking.” What are some of the dissipative processes that might cause the bird’s motion to cease?


Can improved engineering and materials be employed in heat engines to reduce heat transfer into the environment? Can they eliminate heat transfer into the environment entirely?


Does the second law of thermodynamics alter the conservation of energy principle?

15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators


Explain why heat pumps do not work as well in very cold climates as they do in milder ones. Is the same true of refrigerators?


In some Northern European nations, homes are being built without heating systems of any type. They are very well insulated and are kept warm by the body heat of the residents. However, when the residents are not at home, it is still warm in these houses. What is a possible explanation?


Why do refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps operate most cost-effectively for cycles with a small difference between ThTh size 12{T rSub { size 8{h} } } {} and TcTc size 12{T rSub { size 8{c} } } {}? (Note that the temperatures of the cycle employed are crucial to its COPCOP size 12{ ital "COP"} {}.)


Grocery store managers contend that there is less total energy consumption in the summer if the store is kept at a low temperature. Make arguments to support or refute this claim, taking into account that there are numerous refrigerators and freezers in the store.


Can you cool a kitchen by leaving the refrigerator door open?

15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy


A woman shuts her summer cottage up in September and returns in June. No one has entered the cottage in the meantime. Explain what she is likely to find, in terms of the second law of thermodynamics.


Consider a system with a certain energy content, from which we wish to extract as much work as possible. Should the system’s entropy be high or low? Is this orderly or disorderly? Structured or uniform? Explain briefly.


Does a gas become more orderly when it liquefies? Does its entropy change? If so, does the entropy increase or decrease? Explain your answer.


Explain how water’s entropy can decrease when it freezes without violating the second law of thermodynamics. Specifically, explain what happens to the entropy of its surroundings.


Is a uniform-temperature gas more or less orderly than one with several different temperatures? Which is more structured? In which can heat transfer result in work done without heat transfer from another system?


Give an example of a spontaneous process in which a system becomes less ordered and energy becomes less available to do work. What happens to the system’s entropy in this process?


What is the change in entropy in an adiabatic process? Does this imply that adiabatic processes are reversible? Can a process be precisely adiabatic for a macroscopic system?


Does the entropy of a star increase or decrease as it radiates? Does the entropy of the space into which it radiates (which has a temperature of about 3 K) increase or decrease? What does this do to the entropy of the universe?


Explain why a building made of bricks has smaller entropy than the same bricks in a disorganized pile. Do this by considering the number of ways that each could be formed (the number of microstates in each macrostate).

15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation


Explain why a building made of bricks has smaller entropy than the same bricks in a disorganized pile. Do this by considering the number of ways that each could be formed (the number of microstates in each macrostate).

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information Citation information

© Mar 3, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.