Free Energy Change, ∆G

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Free Energy Change, ∆G (Campbell Biology)

Recall that the universe is really equivalent to “the system” plus “the surroundings.” In 1878, J. Willard Gibbs, a professor at Yale, defined a very useful function called the Gibbs free energy of a system (without considering its surroundings), symbolized by the letter G. We’ll refer to the Gibbs free energy simply as free energy. Free energy is the portion of a system’s energy that can perform work when temperature and pressure are uniform throughout the system, as in a living cell. Let’s consider how we determine the free-energy change that occurs when a system changes—for example, during a chemical reaction.

The change in free energy, ∆G, can be calculated for a chemical reaction by applying the following equation:

∆G = ∆H – T∆S

This equation uses only properties of the system (the reaction) itself: ∆H symbolizes the change in the system’s enthalpy (in biological systems, equivalent to total energy); ∆S is the change in the system’s entropy; and T is the absolute temperature in Kelvin (K) units (K = °C + 273.

Using chemical methods, we can measure ∆G for any reaction. (The value will depend on conditions such as pH, temperature, and concentrations of reactants and products.) Once we know the value of ∆G for a process, we can use it to predict whether the process will be spontaneous (that is, whether it is energetically favorable and will occur without an input of energy). More than a century of experiments has shown that only processes with a negative ∆G are spontaneous. For ∆G to be negative, ∆H must be negative (the system gives up enthalpy and H decreases) or T∆S must be positive (the system gives up order and S increases), or both: When ∆H and T∆S are tallied, ∆G has a negative value (∆G 6 0) for all spontaneous processes. In other words, every spontaneous process decreases the system’s free energy, and processes that have a positive or zero ∆G are never spontaneous.

This information is immensely interesting to biologists, for it allows us to predict which kinds of change can happen without an input of energy. Such spontaneous changes can be harnessed to perform work. This principle is very important in the study of metabolism, where a major goal is to determine which reactions can supply energy for cellular work.

Source:

Urry, Lisa A.. Campbell Biology. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. https://www.pearson.com/us/higher-education/series/Campbell-Biology-Series/2244849.html

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