Thermodynamics – The Soul of Fire
Gerald A. Kitzmann, Ph.D
Professor & Chair Emeritus
Department of Physics
State University of New York, New Paltz
It is thought that of all the animals on planet earth, there is only one that can build a fire and has developed a realization of itself so that it can ask and answer the questions: Who am I? What is this fire that burns within me and before me? Why does the flame rise, and why am I warmed before this fire of time?
John Schmitz’s book on thermodynamics is designed for the mature general science reader who has developed a general knowledge of the physical science literature that does not require mathematics beyond the arithmetic of writing a bank check. The overall objective of this short book is to introduce the reader to the thermodynamic concept of entropy and its many ramifications ranging from the micro-quantum world to the gross dynamic relativity construction of the universe. To prepare the reader for this entropy concept he lays down a foundation which closely follows the early historic development of thermodynamics. In preparations for reading this book one should first carefully read through the two-page table of contents. Dr. Schmitz makes statements and/or asks questions which he then answers in the text of the book drawing the reader into his web of understanding which demonstrates the beauty and his love of thermodynamics. One very quickly realizes that in writing this book the author has given quality time in considering carefully the answers to his questions. There are footnotes that are well worth reading which amplify selected points including historic events with specific dates. You will find yourself going back to the table of contents and index pages to pick up action items in your reading. Indeed, before you start reading this book you should browse the table of contents to determine the extent and usages of entropy.
The reader should come to the realization that we do not have an energy crisis as energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only transformed.
Rather, we have an entropy crisis wherein we are using up well ordered fuel materials to generate heat, which is used to produce some product and/or to do a little useful mechanical work , and there is a residue of less ordered materials such as exhaust gasses. The examples of entropy are generally well written and are illustrative of the wide usage of the concept. The author’s example from biology is noteworthy as it first appears that biological living systems seem to violate the laws of physics, but just as it requires energy to operate a refrigerator to make low entropy ice cubes from water (a high entropy state) it likewise requires an expenditure of energy to maintain the living state of matter.
This work should be required reading during the first weeks of a formal thermodynamics course while students are being introduced to the conjugate couples* of work and heat. The book provides the basic historic foundation of the main pioneers in classical thermodynamics concepts and their relationships to the modern physics formulations of Planck’s quantum mechanics, and to Einstein’s relativity ideas. Professional educators in thermodynamics will enjoy recommending this book to their non-science friends. Also the reading of this book by the general public should generate a better educated public which should be able to maintain higher quality discussions using thermodynamics concepts as applied to political, social, religious and economic problems of the future.
* Callen, Herbert B., Thermodynamics and an Introduction to Thermostatistics, 2nd edition , 18th printing (Wiley, New York, 1985).