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Chemistry LibreTexts

18. Chemical Thermodynamics

Chemical reactions obey two fundamental laws. The first of these, the law of conservation of mass, states that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. (For more information on matter, see Chapter 1 "Introduction to Chemistry".) The law of conservation of mass is the basis for all the stoichiometry and equilibrium calculations you have learned thus far in chemistry. The second, the law of conservation of energy, states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. (For more information on energy, see Chapter 5 "Energy Changes in Chemical Reactions".) Instead, energy takes various forms that can be converted from one form to another. For example, the energy stored in chemical bonds can be released as heat during a chemical reaction.

In Chapter 5 "Energy Changes in Chemical Reactions", you also learned about thermochemistry, the study of energy changes that occur during chemical reactions. Our goal in this chapter is to extend the concepts of thermochemistry to an exploration of thermodynamics (from the Greek thermo and dynamic, meaning “heat” and “power,” respectively), the study of the interrelationships among heat, work, and the energy content of a system at equilibrium. Thermodynamics tells chemists whether a particular reaction is energetically possible in the direction in which it is written, and it gives the composition of the reaction system at equilibrium. It does not, however, say anything about whether an energetically feasible reaction will actually occur as written, and it tells us nothing about the reaction rate or the pathway by which it will occur. The rate of a reaction and its pathway are described by chemical kinetics. (For more information on reaction rates and kinetics, see Chapter 14 "Chemical Kinetics".)

The melting of ice is a thermodynamic process. When a cube of ice melts, there is a spontaneous and irreversible transfer of heat from a warm substance, the surrounding air, to a cold substance, the ice cube. The direction of heat flow in this process and the resulting increase in entropy illustrate the second law of thermodynamics.

Chemical thermodynamics provides a bridge between the macroscopic properties of a substance and the individual properties of its constituent molecules and atoms. As you will see, thermodynamics explains why graphite can be converted to diamond; how chemical energy stored in molecules can be used to perform work; and why certain processes, such as iron rusting and organisms aging and dying, proceed spontaneously in only one direction, requiring no net input of energy to occur.


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