Visualizing the entropy change of a thermal reservoir

Elon Langbeheim, Samuel A. Safran, Edit Yerushalmi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


When a system exchanges energy with a constant-temperature environment, the entropy of the surroundings changes. A lattice model of a fluid thermal reservoir can provide a visualization of the microscopic changes that occur in the surroundings upon energy transfer from the system. This model can be used to clarify the consistency of phenomena such as crystallization or similar phase transitions with the second law of thermodynamics; in those phenomena, students intuitively grasp that the system entropy decreases, but may not have a clear picture of how it is compensated by an increase in the reservoir entropy. The model may be used in the classroom to visually demonstrate how processes in which the entropy of the system decreases can occur spontaneously; specifically, it shows how the reservoir temperature affects the magnitude of the entropy change that occurs upon energy transfer from the system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-385
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 11 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • First-Year Undergraduate/General
  • Liquids
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Upper Division Undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Education


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