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Study of the relationships among heat, work, temperature, and energy. Any physical system will spontaneously approach an equilibrium that can be described by specifying its properties, such as pressure, temperature, or chemical composition. If external constraints are allowed to change, these properties generally change. The three laws of thermodynamics describe these changes and predict the equilibrium state of the system. The first law states that whenever energy is converted from one form to another, the total quantity of energy remains the same. The second law states that, in a closed system, the entropy of the system does not decrease. The third law states that, as a system approaches absolute zero, further extraction of energy becomes more and more difficult, eventually becoming theoretically impossible.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on thermodynamics, visit Britannica.com.