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Physicists Expand First Law of Thermodynamics for Space Energy Conversion

Physicists at West Virginia University have published a study that provides new insights into the first law of thermodynamics, expanding its scope and thus its explanatory power. The first law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy within the universe always remains the same, and energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another.

The lead author of the study, Paul Cassak, explained that the first law is valid only in systems where temperatures can be defined properly, which means that it can only be applied when there isn't much of a difference in temperatures between the systems. The researchers' paper, published in the journal of Physical Review Letters, focuses on how the first law can be applied more widely than previously thought.


Picture: Kumaon Jagran

The researchers attempted to examine how energy is converted in superheated plasmas in space and generalised the first law of thermodynamics for systems that are not in equilibrium. They did a pencil and paper calculation to find how much energy is associated with matter not being in equilibrium, and it works whether the system is close to or far from equilibrium.

The development is theoretical but has potentially immense practical applications. A better understanding of the law will help astronomers understand plasmas in space and thus better understand space weather, which can affect satellite communications and trigger power outages on earth. The team also expects that their work will help other physicists understand issues in quantum computers and galaxy evolution better.

The study is part of work being conducted at the PHAse Space MApping experiment (or PHASMA) at in the WVU Centre for KINetic Experimental, Theoretical and Integrated Computational Plasma Physics. The research provides a new way to quantify energy conversion that doesn't involve expansion and heating, thus expanding the scope of the first law of thermodynamics. The result represents a significant step forward in our understanding of the first law of thermodynamics and could lead to a range of practical applications in the future.

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