Predicting the Sign of Δs | Thermodynamics (2023)

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Predicting the Sign of ΔS

The relationships between entropy, microstates, and matter/energy dispersal described previously allow us to make generalizations regarding the relative entropies of substances and to predict the sign of entropy changes for chemical and physical processes. Consider the phase changes illustrated in the figure below.

In the solid phase, the atoms or molecules are restricted to nearly fixed positions with respect to each other and are capable of only modest oscillations about these positions. With essentially fixed locations for the system’s component particles, the number of microstates is relatively small. In the liquid phase, the atoms or molecules are free to move over and around each other, though they remain in relatively close proximity to one another.

This increased freedom of motion results in a greater variation in possible particle locations, so the number of microstates is correspondingly greater than for the solid. As a result, Sliquid > Ssolid and the process of converting a substance from solid to liquid (melting) is characterized by an increase in entropy, ΔS > 0. By the same logic, the reciprocal process (freezing) exhibits a decrease in entropy, ΔS < 0.

Predicting the Sign of Δs | Thermodynamics (1)

The entropy of a substance increases (ΔS > 0) as it transforms from a relatively ordered solid, to a less-ordered liquid, and then to a still less-ordered gas. The entropy decreases (ΔS < 0) as the substance transforms from a gas to a liquid and then to a solid.

Now consider the vapor or gas phase. The atoms or molecules occupy a much greater volume than in the liquid phase; therefore each atom or molecule can be found in many more locations than in the liquid (or solid) phase. Consequently, for any substance, Sgas > Sliquid > Ssolid, and the processes of vaporization and sublimation likewise involve increases in entropy, ΔS > 0. Likewise, the reciprocal phase transitions, condensation and deposition, involve decreases in entropy, ΔS < 0.

According to kinetic-molecular theory, the temperature of a substance is proportional to the average kinetic energy of its particles. Raising the temperature of a substance will result in more extensive vibrations of the particles in solids and more rapid translations of the particles in liquids and gases. At higher temperatures, the distribution of kinetic energies among the atoms or molecules of the substance is also broader (more dispersed) than at lower temperatures. Thus, the entropy for any substance increases with temperature (see the figure below).

Predicting the Sign of Δs | Thermodynamics (2)

Entropy increases as the temperature of a substance is raised, which corresponds to the greater spread of kinetic energies. When a substance melts or vaporizes, it experiences a significant increase in entropy.


Try this simulator with interactive visualization of the dependence of particle location and freedom of motion on physical state and temperature.

The entropy of a substance is influenced by the structure of the particles (atoms or molecules) that comprise the substance. With regard to atomic substances, heavier atoms possess greater entropy at a given temperature than lighter atoms, which is a consequence of the relation between a particle’s mass and the spacing of quantized translational energy levels (which is a topic beyond the scope of our treatment). For molecules, greater numbers of atoms (regardless of their masses) increase the number of ways in which the molecules can vibrate and thus the number of possible microstates and the entropy of the system.

Finally, variations in the types of particles affects the entropy of a system. Compared to a pure substance, in which all particles are identical, the entropy of a mixture of two or more different particle types is greater. This is because of the additional orientations and interactions that are possible in a system comprised of nonidentical components.

For example, when a solid dissolves in a liquid, the particles of the solid experience both a greater freedom of motion and additional interactions with the solvent particles. This corresponds to a more uniform dispersal of matter and energy and a greater number of microstates. The process of dissolution therefore involves an increase in entropy, ΔS > 0.

Considering the various factors that affect entropy allows us to make informed predictions of the sign of ΔS for various chemical and physical processes as illustrated in the example below.


Predicting the Sign of ∆S

Predict the sign of the entropy change for the following processes. Indicate the reason for each of your predictions.

(a) One mole liquid water at room temperature \(⟶\) one mole liquid water at 50 °C

(b) \({\text{Ag}}^{\text{+}}(aq)+{\text{Cl}}^{\text{−}}(aq)\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}⟶\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{AgCl}(s)\)

(c) \({\text{C}}_{6}{\text{H}}_{6}(l)+\cfrac{15}{2}{\text{O}}_{2}(g)\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}⟶\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}6{\text{CO}}_{2}(g)+3{\text{H}}_{2}\text{O}(l)\)

(d) \({\text{NH}}_{3}(s)\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}⟶\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}{\text{NH}}_{\text{3}}(l)\)


(a) positive, temperature increases

(b) negative, reduction in the number of ions (particles) in solution, decreased dispersal of matter

(c) negative, net decrease in the amount of gaseous species

(d) positive, phase transition from solid to liquid, net increase in dispersal of matter

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