# Thermo Question: The math behind systems in thermal contact

• E'lir Kramer
In summary, the conversation discusses the difference between considering two systems in thermal contact versus one combined system. The author asserts that the initial multiplicity is the product of the multiplicity of each system, while the maximum multiplicity is found when the two systems have equal entropy. However, this approach assumes distinguishability of particles and does not take into account the different energies and densities of the particles in the two systems. In the real world, considering the two systems as one combined system may lead to a different result due to the presence of three variables - energy, density, and volume.
E'lir Kramer
Hi! I am reading Molecular Driving Forces, 2nd ed., by Dill & Bromberg.

On page 53, example 3.9, we consider why energy exchanges between two systems from the point of view of the 2nd law.

We consider two separate systems. Each has ten particles, and each particle has two possible energy states. System A has total energy $U{a}$ = 2, and $U{b}$ = 4. Thus binomial statistics predicts the multiplicities of these systems:

W($U{a}$) = $\frac{10!}{8!2!}$ = 45
W($U{b}$) = $\frac{10!}{6!4!}$ = 210

Now the confusing part, to me, is the math when these two systems come into thermal contact. Then the author asserts that the initial multiplicity is

W($U{total}$) = $\frac{10!}{8!2!}$$\frac{10!}{6!4!}$

And that maximum multiplicity is found at

W($U{total}$) = $\frac{10!}{7!3!}$$\frac{10!}{7!3!}$ = 14,400

But why consider the systems in this way, as opposed to thinking of a new system, with 20 particles, having $U{a+b}$ = 6?

Then we get

W($U{a+b}$) = $\frac{20!}{14!6!}$ = 38760 ≠ W($U{total}$)

I'm trying to develop a sense of the difference, I suppose, between two systems in thermal contact and one system. After they've equilibrated, how are they not treatable as one system? They clearly aren't, because if they were, then the total multiplicity of that one system must = the total multiplicity of the two systems A and B.

I think I've answered my own question:

The reason there is a difference between two systems in thermal contact and one system has to do with distinguishability.

"Two systems" means that we can independently measure the temperature of each system - or, equivalently, that the two systems have distinguishable particles. In thermal contact without matter transfer, we could, for instance, measure the temperature of the two systems independently. Intuitively, given the same particles of matter and amount energy, if we can distinguish between more macro-states, we expect there to be a smaller number of microstates comprising each macrostate.

The 10+10 systems can of course assume exactly the same energy configurations that the 20/6 state could. The difference is that we can distinguish more of the macrostates arising from various configurations of the 10+10 than that of the 20. For example, a 10/4 - 10/2 split is different from a 10/2 - 10/4 split. In a hypothetical 20/6 system, what we are saying is that all 10/2 - 10/4 splits look the same to us, and in fact those splits look the same as all the 10/3 splits, and all the 10/5 - 10/1 splits.

If anyone wants to jump in and confirm or deny this explanation, I'd appreciate it.

E'lir Kramer said:
If anyone wants to jump in and confirm or deny this explanation, I'd appreciate it.

Basically, I think you are right.

What you are saying seems to be that if you have two containers, before thermal equilibrium, the total entropy is Log(45 x 210) which is, of course, the sum of the separate entropies (=Log(45)+Log(210)=9.15) After equilibrium, they have equal entropies, Log(120) each, and the total entropy is Log(120)+Log(120)=Log(14400)=9.575. Entropy has increased, as expected. What you want to do is consider them as one system with entropy Log(38760)=10.565. You make them one system by removing the partition between them, having one volume containing all the particles.

My problem is that, with real gases, if you have two separated volumes with the same density, different temperatures, they also have entropy equal to the sum of the separate entropies, and if you let them equilibrate, they will have equal entropies, total entropy the sum of the two, and that entropy will be larger than the original. If you then remove the partition, let them mix, the entropy does not change, unlike your scenario.

If the densities are different to begin with, then the entropy will increase when you remove the partition, it all depends on the densities.

The bottom line is that you have assumed that when you remove the partition, the particles still have only two energy states, which is where things differ from the "real" situation.

Entropy is the log of the number of microstates that give a particular macrostate. When the two systems are separated, your macrostate is just the total energies of each system. When they are combined, its just the total energy of the combined system. Given your assumptions, you are correct, but in the real world, you need three variables, energy, density, and (constant) volume, for example, and then things change.

I would first clarify that the concept of thermal contact refers to two systems that are allowed to exchange energy but not matter. This means that the two systems are still considered separate and maintain their individual properties, but they are able to interact and exchange energy.

In this scenario, it is important to consider the initial multiplicities of each system separately, as they are not yet in thermal contact. The total multiplicity of the combined system is then calculated by multiplying the individual multiplicities of each system. This is because the total energy of the combined system is the sum of the energies of the two separate systems.

When the two systems are in thermal contact, their energies are able to exchange until they reach a state of equilibrium. At this point, the total energy of the combined system is fixed, but the individual energies of each system can vary. This is why the maximum multiplicity is found at a different energy level than the initial total energy of the combined system.

In regards to your question about why we cannot consider the two systems as one larger system with 20 particles, this is because the particles in each system still maintain their individual identities and properties. In other words, the combined system is not a completely new system, but rather a combination of two separate systems.

I hope this helps clarify the difference between two systems in thermal contact and one system, and why we must consider the multiplicities in this way. The concept of thermal contact is crucial in understanding the flow of energy in thermodynamic systems and plays a key role in the second law of thermodynamics.

## 1. What is thermal contact?

Thermal contact refers to the physical interaction between two systems or objects that allows for the transfer of heat energy between them.

## 2. What is the significance of studying systems in thermal contact?

Studying systems in thermal contact is important for understanding how heat energy is transferred and how it affects the behavior of different materials and substances. This knowledge is essential in fields such as thermodynamics, engineering, and environmental science.

## 3. How is heat energy transferred between systems in thermal contact?

Heat energy can be transferred between systems in thermal contact through three main mechanisms: conduction, convection, and radiation. Conduction is the transfer of heat through direct contact between materials, convection is the transfer of heat through the movement of fluids, and radiation is the transfer of heat through electromagnetic waves.

## 4. How is the math behind systems in thermal contact calculated?

The math behind systems in thermal contact can be calculated using principles from thermodynamics, such as the laws of thermodynamics and the equations for heat transfer. These calculations can also involve variables such as temperature, heat capacity, and thermal conductivity.

## 5. What are some real-world applications of understanding systems in thermal contact?

Understanding systems in thermal contact has many real-world applications, such as designing efficient heating and cooling systems, optimizing energy usage, and predicting and preventing the effects of temperature changes on materials and structures.

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