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Welcome to our Physics lesson on **State Variables and Path-Dependent Variables**, this is the sixth lesson of our suite of physics lessons covering the topic of **The Kinetic Theory of Gases. Ideal Gases**, you can find links to the other lessons within this tutorial and access additional physics learning resources below this lesson.

For a fixed amount of gas, we can find the temperature if we know the pressure and volume of the gas. Consider the example below:

A P - V diagram for 0.2 moles of an ideal gas is shown below. Determine the initial and final temperatures of the gas sample.

In the graph, "i" stands for initial and "f" for final state of the gas. Let's apply the ideal gas law for the points i and f given that P^{1} = P^{2} = P = 4 atm = 400 000 Pa, Vi = 3 L = 0.003 m^{3} and Vf = 5 L = 0.005 m^{3}. We have for the initial state i:

P × V_{i} = n × R × T_{i}

Thus,

T_{i} = *P × V*_{i}*/**n × R*

=*100 000 × 0.003**/**0.2 × 8.31*

= 180.5 K

=

= 180.5 K

For the final state, we have:

P × V_{f} = n × R × T_{f}

T_{f} = *P × V*_{f}*/**n × R*

=*100 000 × 0.005**/**0.2 × 8.31*

= 300.8 K

T

=

= 300.8 K

We draw two conclusions from the above example:

**Every point on a P - V diagram has a definite temperature for a fixed amount of gas**.**The points on a P - V diagram are called "states"**. A gas can undergo an infinite number of intermediate states when it moves from the initial to the final state (from i to f).

As explained earlier, **pressure**, **volume** and **temperature** are known as "state variables". This means all these three quantities have an infinite number of values from the initial to the final state. These values either change slowly or remain constant during a thermodynamic process.

**Internal energy is also a state variable**. Internal energy of a gas sample is a function of temperature only. For a definite amount of gas, every specific temperature value corresponds to a specific amount of internal energy. Therefore, for a given state, the internal energy of gas has a fixed value. When the gas sample returns to the previous state, the internal energy takes the previous value as well.

State variables are **macroscopic parameters**. For a given state, a gas sample has fixed values of P, V, T and U. Although the speed or energy of a certain molecule are in continuous change, the values of state variables are determined by an average of effects produced by billions of molecules.

**Heat and work are not state variables**. It is meaningless if we talk about heat or work contained in a system. Internal energy is a property of a system. Heat and work are not properties of system in a given state, but characteristics of the process between two states. Remember, both heat and work represent energies transferred between systems.

Consider two different processes between two fixed states as shown in the graph below:

In the process 1 (path 1) the gas expands at constant volume.

When the gas undergoes the process 2 (path 2), it expands from the same initial state to the same final state as in the process 1, but during the process 2 pressure is first increased then decreased to the original value, probably by placing and removing weights on the piston.

Let's compare the change in the internal energy ΔU, work W and heat Q during the two above processes.

Since the temperatures Ti and Tf have fixed values in the states "i" and "f" regardless of the intermediate stages, we have T_{1} = T_{2}. Since for a gas sample equal changes in temperatures imply equal changes in internal energy, we can write:

∆U_{1} = ∆U_{2}

Comparing the areas under the P - V graphs (which correspond to the works in each process), we conclude that

W_{1} < W_{2}

Applying the First Law of Thermodynamics Q = ΔU + W for both states 1 and 2, we obtain

Q_{1} < Q_{2}

Hence, we conclude that although the initial and final states are the same, the gas sample absorbs more heat when it moves along the path 2, because it does more work along this path. This is like walking from one village to another along two different paths: one requires climbing over a hill, the other walking along a horizontal path. Both paths bring us to the same destination, but one of them requires much more energy compared to the other.

It is clear from the above example that **heat** and **work** depend not only on the initial and final states, but also on the intermediate states the gas undergoes during a thermodynamic process. Therefore, **heat and work are not state variables, because they depend on the path followed between the initial and final states**. Such variables are called "**path-dependent variables**".

You have reached the end of Physics lesson **13.6.6 State Variables and Path-Dependent Variables**. There are 6 lessons in this physics tutorial covering **The Kinetic Theory of Gases. Ideal Gases**, you can access all the lessons from this tutorial below.

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