Isothermal Expansion of an Ideal Gas

Exchange of heat is an important characteristic to note down in the fields of chemistry and thermal engineering. Considering the significance of this process, we are going to learn about a chemical procedure called isothermal expansion. After reading through this context, we will be able to know how the work done in an isothermal process is different in a reversible and irreversible state, and how heat gets transferred to another medium, along with important formulas and other pointers of study. 

But before everything, let us first quickly grasp the isothermal process definition along with 2 important gas forms namely ‘Real’ and ‘Ideal’ in brief.

Isothermal Expansion

To gain basic knowledge about the isothermal expansion of an ideal gas and real, it is essential to know what both these gases mean. 

An ideal gas possesses atoms and molecules that are highly elastic. Since the molecules of an ideal gas move faster than any other source, there is an absence of any intermolecular force of attraction between the elements. Moreover, the atoms and molecules in an ideal gas are present quite far away (distantly) and hence interaction is not possible at all. 

Also, ideal gases have their heat stored in the form of kinetic energy within each particle. This change in the internal energy leads to the change in the temperature, thus resulting in what exchange.  Helium is a classic example to state as an ideal gas.

Note that an ideal gas, under a certain reasonable tolerance condition, can change its medium into a real gas. 

On the other hand, when a gaseous element has a minimal level of intermolecular attractive forces between their molecules and atoms, then it can be termed as real gas. In the case of an ideal gas, it cannot exist and thrive naturally in the ecosystem. But, real gases can ideally act in both high-temperature conditions as well as in low-pressure situations. The common examples for a real gas include nitrogen (N), Helium (He), Oxygen (O), and more. 

Now, let’s move onto the topic of the isothermal expansion process. An isothermal process is defined by the change in a particular system where the temperature will remain constant. To be more precise, isothermal expansion gives ∆T = 0 (no change in the temperature).

When the vacuum gets expanded, it leads to the free expansion of a gas. In the case of an ideal gas, the rate of free expansion is NIL, that is, the work done is 0. The value of 0 is the result regardless of whether the process is irreversible or reversible. 

Some of the reversible cases of isothermal expansion include converting ice from its solid-state to the liquid state as water, dehydrogenation and hydrogenation in milling a chemical and more. Examples for an irreversible condition include work that is done against the friction, Joule’s heating effect, magnetic hysteresis and so on. 

P-V Diagram to Represent Isothermal Process

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When a system has its internal energy changed, then it is given by the following condition:

∆U = q + w --(1)

Check out the keys to the formula below.

  • ‘∆U’ to represent a change in internal energy.

  • ‘q’ is labelled to denote the heat given by that respective system. 

  • ‘w’ is the specific amount of work done over the system.

The following cases are given as isothermal process examples and types….

∆U = q + pex  ∆V

w = pex ∆V is the method to denote a work done in the condition of vacuum, Hence, the equation denoted as 1 (from the top) can also be represented as:

∆U = q + pex  ∆V

Moving on, if the volume in the condition is 0, therefore…

∆V = 0  ∆U = q + pex ∆V 

∆U is the work done in this NIL vacuum condition. This also results in the fact that ∆U = Q. ‘qv’ is used to symbolize that the volume i.e. getting heat supplied at a constant rate.

Let us consider one more instance where an ideal gas like Helium (He) is subjected to isothermal expansion in the presence of vacuum (∆T = 0). Here, the work done for this vacuum will be NIL, that is w = 0 since the pex=0. According to the experiments of Joule, q =0 and therefore it is concluded that work done is NIL that is ∆U = 0.

Lastly, take this formula: ∆U = q + w. Now, we can express this statement for both reversible and irreversible isothermal expansions processes with the pointers given below: 

  • Isothermal reaction for a reversible change is mentioned as q = -w = pex (Vf-Vi)

  • Isothermal reaction for an irreversible change is given by q = -w = nRTln (Vf/Vi) = 2.303 nRT log (Vf/Vi)

  • For in the case of an Adiabatic change, it is written as Q =0, ∆U = wad

Remember that the work done in an isothermal process of expansion for any given gas and vacuum condition is to be denoted as T = Constant, ∆T = 0 and dT = 0.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Define the Terms Isothermal and Expansion in Short. 

In short, isothermal is a term used to denote that the temperature is remaining constant and does not change with any factor for a given system. Expansion is the word to represent that a given system’s volume has increased as per certain conditions.

2. Why is the Heat Given (q) is Denoted in a Negative Sign?

Since the given gas will be exerting a pressure to increase the overall volume of the process, therefore the heat given (q) by the gas is denoted with a negative sign.

3. State 1 Application of Boyle's Law.

Boyle's Law is a theorem useful to predict a result from the introduction of a change in a system’s volume and pressure. This law can only give results for the initial state and only particularly for a fixed level of gas.

4. What are the 2 Isothermal Expansion Examples in Real-time?

Ice getting melted at 0 degrees and all the chemical plus heat reactions inside a refrigerator are the 2 common examples for the isothermal expansion process.

5. Is the Process of Free Expansion Isothermal or Adiabatic?

The process of free expansion is an irreversible reaction and hence this method is denoted as an isothermal expansion. As the way between their end-points of the reaction is not defined properly, a free expansion at an insulated system is more of an isothermal process.