The content in this chapter should be relevant to about 7% of all questions about general chemistry on the MCAT.
This chapter covers material from the following AAMC content categories:
1D: Principles of bioenergetics and fuel molecule metabolism
5E: Principles of chemical thermodynamics and kinetics
Styrofoam cups are such good insulators that they can be used as holding containers for certain calorimetry experiments. Coffee-cup calorimetry, which uses Styrofoam cups to measure heats of solution and specific heats of metals and other materials, is low-tech, yet it can produce remarkably accurate results as long as care has been taken to calibrate the calorimeter and to minimize heat loss through the top of the container. The next time you are at your favorite coffee chain, think about what occurs when cold cream is added to hot coffee. If we took the time to measure the masses and temperatures of the hot coffee and the cold cream before mixing them, measured the drink’s temperature after it had been stirred, and looked up the specific heats of water and cream, we would have enough information to calculate the amount of heat exchanged between the hot coffee and the cold cream.
This chapter will review the basic principles of thermochemistry, which is the study of the energy changes that accompany chemical and physical processes. Starting with the first law of thermodynamics, which states that energy is never created nor destroyed but—at most—simply changed from one form to another, we will quantify the various exchanges in energy as a system moves from some initial state to a final state. As we go along, we will define what is meant by system and surroundings, state functions, heat, enthalpy, entropy, and Gibbs free energy.