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Thermodynamics For Living Systems

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.551.1 - 4.551.11



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Paper Authors

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L. Davis Clements

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John S. Cundiff

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Dennis Schulte

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George Meyer

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

Session 1308

Thermodynamics for Living Systems1

John S. Cundiff Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

George E. Meyer, Dennis D. Schulte, L. Davis Clements Biological Systems Engineering, University of Nebraska


A thermodynamics course specifically designed for the engineering disciplines that deal with living systems is described. At most universities, thermodynamics courses are taught in the mechanical engineering and chemical engineering departments. Traditionally, these courses give little attention to the reactions that occur in living systems as they interact with their environment. Emergence of the Biological Systems / Biological Engineering discipline has shown the need for application of thermodynamics to living systems as early as possible in the curriculum. This foundation is essential for subsequent course work. The course outline presented here envisions a detailed treatment of the first law with problems that illustrate the application to psychrometrics. The second law is followed by a shortened treatment of cycles. Gibbs energy combines enthalpy (first law) and entropy (second law) into one state property. Introduction of this important concept must be done, but the level of this introduction has not been finalized. Ideally, the introduction to Gibbs energy will be followed by elementary application problems in plant and mammalian biosystems.


There has been both past and recent interest in presenting thermodynamics with a more cosmological view emphasizing nature, biology, and the environment 1, 2, 3. These are by far vast works, which require a lot of student preparation. This paper describes an effort to develop a new introductory thermodynamics course specifically for the engineering disciplines, which deal with living systems. These disciplines include Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), segments of the Civil Engineering (CE), and Chemical Engineering (ChE). These are disciplines that focus on biological issues, specifically the treatment and/or utilization of waste streams and other biochemical processing. The thermodynamics to living systems emphasis might be covered within two or three existing service courses. However, many degree programs stress the need to reduce the number of courses taken to graduate in four years, not to increase them. This means that the syllabuses of courses offered must be streamlined to cover only essential theory and the application to problems relative to the discipline to achieve that economy 2. The authors are also motivated by the belief that there is a need to introduce students to the application of thermodynamics to living systems earlier in the curriculum.

1 The paper was approved as a journal article for publication by the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE.

Clements, L. D., & Cundiff, J. S., & Schulte, D., & Meyer, G. (1999, June), Thermodynamics For Living Systems Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina. 10.18260/1-2--7993

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