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What is a Thermodynamic Process?

written by: Haresh Khemani • edited by: Swagatam • updated: 5/4/2010

When any of the properties of the system such as temperature, pressure, volume etc change, the system is said to have undergone thermodynamic process. Various types of thermodynamic processes are: isothermal process, adiabatic process, ischoric process, isobaric process, and reversible process.

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    Introduction

    Before going into the thermodynamic process and types of thermodynamic processes, let us see what the meaning of the thermodynamic state of system is. The system has certain properties like temperature, pressure, volume, etc. The present values of the properties of the system are called as thermodynamic state of system. Say for instance in a thermos flask there is 250 ml of water at 50 degree Celsius, this is the state of the system, thermos flask. If the values of the properties of the system changes, the state of the system also changes. Suppose we pour out 100 ml of water and its temperature also reduces, the state of this system is also said to have changed.

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    Thermodynamic Process

    When the system undergoes change from one thermodynamic state to final state due change in properties like temperature, pressure, volume etc, the system is said to have undergone thermodynamic process. Various types of thermodynamic processes are: isothermal process, adiabatic process, isochoric process, isobaric process and reversible process. These have been described below:

    1) Isothermal process: When the system undergoes change from one state to the other, but its temperature remains constant, the system is said to have undergone isothermal process. For instance, in our example of hot water in thermos flask, if we remove certain quantity of water from the flask, but keep its temperature constant at 50 degree Celsius, the process is said to be isothermal process.

    Another example of isothermal process is latent heat of vaporization of water. When we heat water to 100 degree Celsius, it will not start boiling instantly. It will keep on absorbing heat at constant temperature; this heat is called latent heat of vaporization. Only after absorbing this heat water at constant temperature, water will get converted into steam.

    2) Adiabatic process: The process, during which the heat content of the system or certain quantity of the matter remains constant, is called as adiabatic process. Thus in adiabatic process no transfer of heat between the system and its surroundings takes place. The wall of the system which does not allows the flow of heat through it, is called as adiabatic wall, while the wall which allows the flow of heat is called as diathermic wall.

    3) Isochoric process: The process, during which the volume of the system remains constant, is called as isochoric process. Heating of gas in a closed cylinder is an example of isochoric process.

    4) Isobaric process: The process during which the pressure of the system remains constant is called as isobaric process. Example: Suppose there is a fuel in piston and cylinder arrangement. When this fuel is burnt the pressure of the gases is generated inside the engine and as more fuel burns more pressure is created. But if the gases are allowed to expand by allowing the piston to move outside, the pressure of the system can be kept constant.

    The constant pressure and volume processes are very important. The Otto and diesel cycle, which are used in the petrol and diesel engine respectively, have constant volume and constant pressure processes. In practical situations ideal constant pressure and constant pressure processes cannot be achieved.

    5) Reversible process: In simple words the process which can be revered back completely is called a reversible process. This means that the final properties of the system can be perfectly reversed back to the original properties. The process can be perfectly reversible only if the changes in the process are infinitesimally small. In practical situations it is not possible to trace these extremely small changes in extremely small time, hence the reversible process is also an ideal process. The changes which occur during reversible process are in equilibrium with each other.