The power of heat

November 27, 2008

General Thermodynamics

Author: Donald R. Olander

Edition: First

Publisher: CRC Press

Pages: 408

Price: £39.99

ISBN 9780849374388

The relationship between heat and power, or "classical thermodynamics", transcends most branches of the physical sciences and plays a fundamental role in the understanding of process in engineering, physics, chemistry, biology and materials science. A significant number of established and emerging engineering applications, from the development of heat engines to bioengineering at the cell level, require a working knowledge of the thermodynamics of the systems involved if they are to be developed and exploited to their full potential.

The study of thermodynamics can be divided into categories according to the subject in hand: processes and properties, reversible and irreversible events, open and closed systems and gaseous and non-gaseous systems. These are evaluated by consideration of macroscopic variables, such as pressure, volume and temperature, within the four laws of thermodynamics, which typically involves minimising the free energy of the system to establish a state of equilibrium. This is often achieved with the help of computer algorithms to perform statistical calculations. As a result, scientists need invariably to understand and apply the principles of thermodynamics to real situations at a relatively advanced level, for which a good grounding in the subject is essential.

Donald Olander's General Thermodynamics is an entry-level text for first-year undergraduates at UK universities across the sciences, which makes it significantly different from other, more subject-specific, texts.

The unusually broad approach adopted by the author results in a reader-friendly text that is particularly accessible for students from non-physics-based subjects. The first chapter describes briefly the history of thermodynamics, which gives the reader a context for the work, and then introduces the key thermodynamic variables, with a careful explanation of entropy, in particular. The first and second laws of thermodynamics are then presented to provide the technical basis for the remainder of the text.

The second chapter defines the equations of state that govern the relationships between macroscopic thermodynamic variables, and introduces simple materials properties, such as heat capacity, that enable the thermodynamics of real systems to be evaluated. Chapters 3 and 4 apply the first and second laws of thermodynamics to closed, and then to more complicated open, systems, including heat engines (which form the basis of a considerable number of thermodynamic systems).

Phase equilibria in simple systems are presented in Chapter 5, including the Clapeyron equation, which relates to changes in state of materials in equilibrium. The mathematics of thermodynamics, based on differential calculus, that reduces the number of actual measurements is presented at a rather low level in a relatively short sixth chapter. The key relations are illustrated effectively, which is a significant aid to the reader.

Chapters 7 to 11 extend the concepts presented in the earlier chapters to more complicated and subject-specific systems, including electrochemistry and biothermodynamics.

The text is illustrated throughout by worked examples that relate to a broad range of practical applications. Each chapter begins with a helpful overview that puts its content into context, and concludes with a number of problems that are presented somewhat unhelpfully without solutions. The emphasis of the text generally is on the application of the thermodynamic concepts to simple materials, except for the later chapters, which is helpful to students new to the subject.

Olander's book is an excellent university entry-level introduction to thermodynamics, and is successful in its multidisciplinary focus. It should appeal to a broad readership across the physical and biological sciences and could easily become a widely recommended text.

Who is it for? First-year science undergraduates.

Presentation: Good.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

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