Predicting the Sign of ΔS (Entropy)


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Three stoppered flasks are shown with right and left-facing arrows in between each; the first is labeled above as, “delta S greater than 0,” and below as, “delta S less than 0,” while the second is labeled above as, “delta S greater than 0,” and below as, “delta S less than 0.” A long, right-facing arrow is drawn above all the flasks and labeled, “Increasing entropy.” The left flask contains twenty-seven particles arranged in a cube in the bottom of the flask and is labeled, “Crystalline solid,” below. The middle flask contains twenty-seven particles dispersed randomly in the bottom of the flask and is labeled, “Liquid,” below. The right flask contains twenty-seven particles dispersed inside of the flask and moving rapidly and is labeled, “Gas,” below.
Figure 1. The entropy of a substance increases (ΔS > 0) as it transforms from a relatively ordered solid, to a less-ordered liquid, and then to a still less-ordered gas. The entropy decreases (ΔS < 0) as the substance transforms from a gas to a liquid and then to a solid. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

OpenStax Chemistry 2e

The relationships between entropy, microstates, and matter/energy dispersal described previously allow us to make generalizations regarding the relative entropies of substances and to predict the sign of entropy changes for chemical and physical processes. Consider the phase changes illustrated in Figure 1. In the solid phase, the atoms or molecules are restricted to nearly fixed positions with respect to each other and are capable of only modest oscillations about these positions. With essentially fixed locations for the system’s component particles, the number of microstates is relatively small. In the liquid phase, the atoms or molecules are free to move over and around each other, though they remain in relatively close proximity to one another. This increased freedom of motion results in a greater variation in possible particle locations, so the number of microstates is correspondingly greater than for the solid. As a result, Sliquid > Ssolid and the process of converting a substance from solid to liquid (melting) is characterized by an increase in entropy, ΔS > 0. By the same logic, the reciprocal process (freezing) exhibits a decrease in entropy, ΔS < 0.

Now consider the gaseous phase, in which a given number of atoms or molecules occupy a much greater volume than in the liquid phase. Each atom or molecule can be found in many more locations, corresponding to a much greater number of microstates. Consequently, for any substance, Sgas > Sliquid > Ssolid, and the processes of vaporization and sublimation likewise involve increases in entropy, ΔS > 0. Likewise, the reciprocal phase transitions, condensation and deposition, involve decreases in entropy, ΔS < 0.

According to kinetic-molecular theory, the temperature of a substance is proportional to the average kinetic energy of its particles. Raising the temperature of a substance will result in more extensive vibrations of the particles in solids and more rapid translations of the particles in liquids and gases. At higher temperatures, the distribution of kinetic energies among the atoms or molecules of the substance is also broader (more dispersed) than at lower temperatures. Thus, the entropy for any substance increases with temperature (Figure 2).

Two graphs are shown. The y-axis of the left graph is labeled, “Fraction of molecules,” while the x-axis is labeled, “Velocity, v ( m / s ),” and has values of 0 through 1,500 along the axis with increments of 500. Four lines are plotted on this graph. The first, labeled, “100 K,” peaks around 200 m / s while the second, labeled, “200 K,” peaks near 300 m / s and is slightly lower on the y-axis than the first. The third line, labeled, “500 K,” peaks around 550 m / s and is lower than the first two on the y-axis. The fourth line, labeled, “1000 K,” peaks around 750 m / s and is the lowest of the four on the y-axis. Each line get increasingly broad. The second graph has a y-axis labeled, “Entropy, S,” with an upward-facing arrow and an x-axis labeled, “Temperature ( K ),” and a right-facing arrow. The graph has three equally spaced columns in the background, labeled, “Solid,” “Liquid,” and, “Gas,” from left to right. A line extends slightly upward through the first column in a slight upward direction, then goes straight up in the transition between the first two columns. In then progresses in a slight upward direction through the second column, then goes up dramatically between the second and third columns, then continues in a slight upward direction once more. The first vertical region of this line is labeled, “Melting,” and the second is labeled, “Boiling.”
Figure 2. Entropy increases as the temperature of a substance is raised, which corresponds to the greater spread of kinetic energies. When a substance undergoes a phase transition, its entropy changes significantly. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

The entropy of a substance is influenced by the structure of the particles (atoms or molecules) that comprise the substance. With regard to atomic substances, heavier atoms possess greater entropy at a given temperature than lighter atoms, which is a consequence of the relation between a particle’s mass and the spacing of quantized translational energy levels (a topic beyond the scope of this text). For molecules, greater numbers of atoms increase the number of ways in which the molecules can vibrate and thus the number of possible microstates and the entropy of the system.

Finally, variations in the types of particles affect the entropy of a system. Compared to a pure substance, in which all particles are identical, the entropy of a mixture of two or more different particle types is greater. This is because of the additional orientations and interactions that are possible in a system comprised of nonidentical components. For example, when a solid dissolves in a liquid, the particles of the solid experience both greater freedom of motion and additional interactions with the solvent particles. This corresponds to a more uniform dispersal of matter and energy and a greater number of microstates. The process of dissolution, therefore, involves an increase in entropy, ΔS > 0.


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:

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