Dispersal of Matter and Energy


Related Posts:

A diagram shows two two-sided flasks connected by a right-facing arrow labeled “Spontaneous” and a left-facing arrow labeled “Nonspontaneous.” Each pair of flasks are connected to one another by a tube with a stopcock. In the left pair of flasks, the left flask contains thirty particles evenly dispersed while the right flask contains nothing and the stopcock is closed. The right pair of flasks has an open stopcock and equal numbers of particles in both flasks.
Figure 1. An isolated system consists of an ideal gas in one flask that is connected by a closed valve to a second flask containing a vacuum. Once the valve is opened, the gas spontaneously becomes evenly distributed between the flasks. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

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.

Two diagrams are shown. The left diagram is comprised of two separated squares; the left is red and labeled “X” and the right is blue and labeled “Y.” Below this diagram is the label “T subscript X, a greater than sign, T subscript Y.” The right diagram shows the boxes next to one another, shaded red on the left, blue on the right, and blended red and blue together in the middle. The left box is red and labeled “X,” the right is blue and labeled “Y” and a right-facing arrow labeled “Heat” is written above them. Below this diagram is the label “X and Y in contact.
Figure 2. When two objects at different temperatures come in contact, heat spontaneously flows from the hotter to the colder object. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

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


Related Research

Research Article: Detangling the Effects of Environmental Filtering and Dispersal Limitation on Aggregated Distributions of Tree and Shrub Species: Life Stage Matters

Date Published: May 26, 2016 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Qing-Song Yang, Guo-Chun Shen, He-Ming Liu, Zhang-Hua Wang, Zun-Ping Ma, Xiao-Feng Fang, Jian Zhang, Xi-Hua Wang, RunGuo Zang. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156326 Abstract: The pervasive pattern of aggregated tree distributions in natural communities is commonly explained by the joint effect of two clustering processes: environmental filtering and … Continue reading

Research Article: Frugivore Behavioural Details Matter for Seed Dispersal: A Multi-Species Model for Cantabrian Thrushes and Trees

Date Published: June 11, 2013 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Juan Manuel Morales, Daniel García, Daniel Martínez, Javier Rodriguez-Pérez, José Manuel Herrera, Andrew Hector. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0065216 Abstract: Animal movement and behaviour are fundamental for ecosystem functioning. The process of seed dispersal by frugivorous animals is a showcase for this paradigm since their behavior shapes the spatial … Continue reading

Research Article: Patterns of Diversity in Soft-Bodied Meiofauna: Dispersal Ability and Body Size Matter

Date Published: March 23, 2012 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Marco Curini-Galletti, Tom Artois, Valentina Delogu, Willem H. De Smet, Diego Fontaneto, Ulf Jondelius, Francesca Leasi, Alejandro Martínez, Inga Meyer-Wachsmuth, Karin Sara Nilsson, Paolo Tongiorgi, Katrine Worsaae, M. Antonio Todaro, Philippe Archambault. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0033801 Abstract: Biogeographical and macroecological principles are derived from patterns of distribution in … Continue reading

Research Article: The underlying processes of a soil mite metacommunity on a small scale

Date Published: May 8, 2017 Publisher: Public Library of Science Author(s): Chengxu Dong, Meixiang Gao, Chuanwei Guo, Lin Lin, Donghui Wu, Limin Zhang, Xiao-Yue Hong. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176828 Abstract: Metacommunity theory provides an understanding of how ecological processes regulate local community assemblies. However, few field studies have evaluated the underlying mechanisms of a metacommunity on a small … Continue reading