Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/231

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By Professor W. S. FRANKLIN


IT is the object of this article to give a simple account of that fundamental principle in physics which is known as the second law of thermodynamics. No generalization of modern physics is of greater importance, not even the principle of the conservation of energy, and no generalization of modern physics is based upon such deeply seated and such widely diffused human intuitions. It is the purpose of this article to give a sharp characterization to this widely diffused intuition.


Thermal Equilibrium

The most important single fact in connection with the study of the phenomena of heat is that a substance settles to a quiescent state in which there is no tendency to further change of any kind when it is left to itself and shielded from all outside disturbing influences. This quiescent state is called a state of thermal equilibrium. For example, the various objects in a closed room settle to thermal equilibrium; when a piece of red-hot iron is thrown into a pail of water, the mixture, at first turbulent, becomes more and more quiet and finally reaches a state of thermal equilibrium. A number of bodies which have settled to a common state of thermal equilibrium are said to have the same temperature. Thus a number of bodies left together in a closed room have the same temperature.


Atomics and Thermodynamics

In nearly every branch of physical science there are two more or less distinct modes of attack, namely, (a) a mode of attack in which the effort is made to develop conceptions of the physical processes of nature, and (b) a mode of attack in which the attempt is made to correlate phenomena on the basis of sensible things, things that can be seen and measured. In the theory of heat the first mode is represented by the application of the atomic theory to the study of heat phenomena, and the second mode is represented by what is called thermodynamics. In the first case one tries to imagine the nature of such processes as the melting of ice or the burning of coal, and in the second case one is content to measure the amount of heat absorbed or given off and to

  1. The substance of this article will be incorporated in Franklin and MacNutt's "Elementary Theory of Heat," which is now in preparation.