Thermodynamic revolution

In scientific revolutions, the thermodynamic revolution (1797-1882) was the gradual clarification and unification of the postulates and theories surrounding the phenomenon of combustion (particularly what heat is) and its usefulness, via energy transformative relationships, to other forms of work such mechanical, electrical, or chemical.

Another common view, is that the thermodynamic revolution was centered around the discovery of “how to turn heat (un-directed energy) partially into usable work (directed energy).” [3] Scientific revolution theorist Thomas Kuhn reasons that the thermodynamic revolution was a “crisis and emergence” type of revolution and that thermodynamics was “born from the collision of two existing nineteenth-century physical theories (caloric theory and kinetic theory).” [4]

In the long scheme of things, it can be argued the thermodynamic revolution began with Arabian chemist Jabir ibn-Hayyan's (Geber's) c. 790 postulate that metals were formed out of two elements: sulphur, ‘the stone which burns’, which characterized the principle of combustibility, and mercury, which contained the idealized principle of metallic properties, peaked with German physicist Rudolf Clausius' 1865 textbook Mechanical Theory of Heat, and ended with the formation of modern chemical thermodynamics by Americans Gilbert Lewis and Merle Randall (1923) and Brit Edward Guggenheim (1933). [5]

The essence of the revolution, however, was seeded with French chemist Antoine Lavoisier's 1787 caloric theory of heat, began to folder with Benjamin Thomson's 1797 cannon-boring experiments, peaked with English physicist James Joule's meticulous "mechanical equivalent of heat" energy conservation experiments (1843), was solidified or made into a science through primarily the work of German physicist Rudolf Clausius (1850-65), with his "internal energy" formulation and his conception of "entropy" as a type of transformation system energy, and was capped-off when German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz showed in 1882 that the long-sought quantity "chemical affinity" was measured by the free energy of the system.

Many, interestingly, argue that revolution still continues, in areas such "ecological thermodynamics", "quantum thermodynamics", or particle physics, where the laws of thermodynamics serve as benchmarks. Similarly, some reason that a new revolution will occur in the future when thermodynamics fully penetrates and elucidates areas such as the thermodynamics of biological nano-engines or the thermodynamics of the being and existence of the person. [6]

The following are related quotes:

“Not Copernicus and Galilei [sic], when they abolished the Ptolemaic system; not Newton, when he annihilated the Cartesian vortices; not Young and Fresnel, when they exploded the Corpuscular Theory; not Faraday and Clerk-Maxwell, in their splendid victory over Actio in distans – more thoroughly shattered a malignant and dangerous heresy, than did Joule when he overthrew the baleful giant force, and firmly established, by lawful means, the beneficent rule of the rightful monarch, energy! Then, and not till then, were the marvelous achievements of Sadi Carnot rendered fully available; and Science silently underwent a revolution more swift and more tremendous than ever befell a nation. But this must be a theme for the Poet of the Future!”
— Anon (1884), review of Joule’s Scientific papers in the Phil. Mag. [2]

1. Maneschi, Andrea and Zamagni, Stefano. (1997). “Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, 1906-1994”, The Economic Journal, Vol. 107, No. 442 (May), pp. 695-707.
2. Phil. Mag. 18 (1884): 154-4.
3. Elvin. (1986). “A Working Definition of Modernity?” Past and Present Society; 113: 209-213.
4. Khun, Thomas S. (1962). The Structure of a Scientific Revolution. (pg. 67)Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
5. Thims, Libb. (2007). Human Chemistry (Volume Two), (preview), (ch. 11: "Affinity and Free Energy", pgs. 423-468). Morrisville, NC: LuLu.
6. Haw, Mark. (2007). "The Industry of Life", Physics World, Nov. 01.

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