A java simulation of the motion of atoms of an ideal gas in two connected containers. The goal is to demonstrate the approach to thermodynamic equilibrium through mixing for both temperature and number density. There are six different simulations with different (and increasingly more sophisticated) initial conditions. There is also a "Maxwell Demon" game for students to try to move the system from equilibrium.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
Specific topics covered include: (1) Systems placed in thermal contact tend toward a common equilibrium temperature. [All experiments] (2) The final equilibrium temperature depends on both the number of particles and the temperatures of each system. [Experiments 1 - 5] (3) Temperature represents a statistical average of kinetic energy. Small systems can possess a large statistical variation in the measure of temperature. (Possible conclusion: there is a limit to the macroscopic definition of temperature.) [Experiment 6] (4) It is possible to make the behavior of systems non-statistical through outside influences (Maxwell's demon). [Experiment 7]
Target Student Population:
introductory and intermediate thermodynamics classes physics/chemistry
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
This material is suitable for introductory and intermediate thermodynamics classes in physics and chemistry. Also suitable for high school physics.
The material gives a good picture of thermodynamic equilibrium, including how both temperature and number density (pressure) must be considered. The applet gives values for both quantities during the simulation.
The temperature scales on the thermometers are truncated, making them somewhat difficult to read. There is no simple way to trace the time dependence of the temperature and number without external resources (a stop watch, for example).
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The graphical nature of this applet will allow students to develop a better intuition for thermodynamics. Includes some questions for students to consider as they run the applets.
Some of the questions included with the experiments, particularly regarding times, are somewhat difficult to answer. The effectiveness of this material was judged for independent student study or as part of a homework exercise. It would have some use as an in-class demonstration, although the time involved in a careful exploration of the physics presented would be prohibitive.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The interface and controls are simple. Students are able to open and close the shutter between the cells themselves and change the temperatures. The authors give an outline of potential problems with the applets, which is very welcome.
Students can not control the initial number of atoms in the chambers, limiting the possible experiments to those seven presented.
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