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Ecological Thermodynamics And The Possibility Of New Thermodynamic Indicators

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovations in Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.506.1 - 11.506.15



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Paper Authors


Ernest Tollner University of Georgia-Athens

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Dr. Tollner received his BS and MS at the University of Kentucky and his Doctorate from Auburn University. He has been researching and teaching in the natural resources engineering area for 25 years at the University of Georgia.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Concepts for an Evolving Course in Ecological Thermodynamics

Ernest W. Tollner and Caner Cazanski

Can thermodynamic principles enable a qualitative basis for ecological engineering design? New insights into interdisciplinary engineering endeavors, from classical modeling to nano – macroscale extrapolation and critical evaluation, weigh heavily on the pervasive nature of thermodynamics in the physical world. ENGR 8980 at UGA provides the basis for this kind of interdisciplinary research in a seminar format, with periodic oral and written reports to educate classmates on student findings. Work in three sections over 15 weeks to appreciate the potential and problems of scale-ups and departures from equilibrium on reasonable application of the laws of thermodynamics.

The first offering of the course left us with the impression that classical approaches to applying entropy were less than satisfying, particularly when large temporal and geographic scales were involved. Statistical mechanics can be used to predict thermodynamic properties when homogeneity and near equilibrium conditions can be reasonably assumed. Living systems with all their complexities add layers of complications. The purpose of this paper is to explore an analogue of statistical thermodynamics on an ecological scale.

The presentation will explore success and other directions taken in this course based on a fall 2003 offering. The pedagogical approach has been a loosely structured seminar that seems appropriate. We will spend some time looking at relations for conserved (e.g., force, mass, momentum) and nonconserved parameters (e.g., money, entropy). We will explore the possibility of using various network environ analyses outputs to explain nonconserved indicators to see what commonalities may be useful.


The course considered the laws of thermodynamics in the classical sense and investigated some models showing how these laws describe solids and gases at the microscopic level in the context of isolated, closed and open systems. We addressed the difficulties of extrapolating from nanoscale to macro scale, critically evaluating the implications of the scale change as related to the laws. We evaluated the impact of departing from near-equilibrium conditions to far-from-equilibrium conditions.

The seminar set forth the following broad objectives:

*Appreciate the pervasive nature of the laws of thermodynamics and thus how these first principles may serve as a basis for interdisciplinary science/engineering research.

*Appreciate the potentials and pitfalls of 1) scale-ups and 2) departures from equilibrium on reasonable application of the laws of thermodynamics.

Tollner, E. (2006, June), Ecological Thermodynamics And The Possibility Of New Thermodynamic Indicators Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--74

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