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Reflections From The Front Porch

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Written by Darrell Anderson.

Within any closed system:

  1. Energy tends to flow and scatter.
  2. The amount of usable energy tends to decrease.
  3. Entropy — the amount of unusable energy — tends to increase.
  4. All closed systems eventually reach temperature equilibrium — heat death.
  5. There is no such thing as a perfectly efficient heat engine.
  6. Perpetual motion is impossible.

More broadly, thermodynamics is that field of study describing energy transfers and conversions. There are three primary laws of thermodynamics. Here is the “matchbook” meaning of those three laws:

The First Law: You can’t accomplish anything without work. (You can’t get something for nothing.)

The Second Law: The most you can accomplish by working is to break even. (There is no such thing as a perfectly efficient energy transfer process.)

The Third Law: You can only break-even at absolute zero. (Nothing moves at that temperature so we’re all prisoners of Law No. 1 and No. 2.)


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