Demystifying thermodynamics by connecting it with mechanics

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, Proceedings, 2009, 9 pp. 63 - 72
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The laws of thermodynamics provide an adequate basis for the development of classical thermodynamics and for the many empirical relationships used by mechanical and chemical engineers. The laws evolved before the advent of the computer with its ability to handle complex simulations. This led to the classical structure that did not require a molecular view of matter. The concept of entropy grew out of this classical view but, has unfortunately earned a reputation for being something mysterious and difficult. Statistical mechanics, much of which is based on Newtonian mechanics, has the power to remove the mystery. But, because of its mathematical complexity, it has rarely been used by engineers either to clarify understanding or to analyze processes and models. We propose, illuslrating with examples, that simple Newtonian mechanical models can be used in place of statistical mechanics - at least for the teaching of concepts. Surprisingly, the models developed using Newton's three Laws allow the development of the zeroth, first and second laws of thermodynamics and the processes by which equilibrium is reached. We believe that in teaching thermodynamics the links with Newtonian mechanics would best be established by the proposed simple methods because of the resulting enlivening of Newtonian mechanics and the enhanced understanding of the fundamental concepts of thermodynamics. Copyright © 2008 by ASME.
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