Dispersal of Matter and Energy (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)
Extending the discussion of thermodynamic concepts toward the objective of predicting spontaneity, consider now an isolated system consisting of two flasks connected with a closed valve. Initially, there is an ideal gas in one flask and the other flask is empty (P = 0). (Figure 1). When the valve is opened, the gas spontaneously expands to fill both flasks equally. Recalling the definition of pressure-volume work from the chapter on thermochemistry, note that no work has been done because the pressure in a vacuum is zero.
Note as well that since the system is isolated, no heat has been exchanged with the surroundings (q = 0). The first law of thermodynamics confirms that there has been no change in the system’s internal energy as a result of this process.
The spontaneity of this process is therefore not a consequence of any change in energy that accompanies the process. Instead, the driving force appears to be related to the greater, more uniform dispersal of matter that results when the gas is allowed to expand. Initially, the system was comprised of one flask containing matter and another flask containing nothing. After the spontaneous expansion took place, the matter was distributed both more widely (occupying twice its original volume) and more uniformly (present in equal amounts in each flask).
Now consider two objects at different temperatures: object X at temperature TX and object Y at temperature TY, with TX > TY (Figure 2). When these objects come into contact, heat spontaneously flows from the hotter object (X) to the colder one (Y). This corresponds to a loss of thermal energy by X and a gain of thermal energy by Y.
From the perspective of this two-object system, there was no net gain or loss of thermal energy, rather the available thermal energy was redistributed among the two objects. This spontaneous process resulted in a more uniform dispersal of energy.
As illustrated by the two processes described, an important factor in determining the spontaneity of a process is the extent to which it changes the dispersal or distribution of matter and/or energy. In each case, a spontaneous process took place that resulted in a more uniform distribution of matter or energy.
Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e
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