Overview of Chemical Thermodynamics and the Equilibrium State
In our earlier discussion of Thermochemistry, we reviewed the concepts of internal energy change and enthalpy change. This equipped us to describe the changes in a substance as a thermochemical system. We learned how to compare the products and reagents in a chemical reaction in terms of the allotment of energy between the system and its surroundings. If the system completely changed from Reagents A to Products B, does heat flow in or out? At this stage, we are ready to seek to understand spontaneity in chemical transformations. What is the availability of energy in a chemical system for drive a reaction forward? We are describing the free energy in a chemical system, energy that when it is expended during chemical tranformation increases the entropy of the universe. Free energy is expended until the equilibrium state for the system is achieved. At equilibrium, heat flows between the system and its surroundings become microscopically reversible. The forward direction is just as likely as the reverse because the entropy associated with heat flows in either direction is the same.
Chemical Thermodynamics and the Equilibrium State on the MCATOn the MCAT, you probably will not have too many direct chemical thermodynamics questions, but the topic is the scaffolding on which much else is built. I believe chemical thermodynamics to be one of the most important subject areas in science. Most students find chemical thermodynamics to be a very abstract subject. This is unfortunate. I think this happens because of the way that chemical thermodynamics is approached in undergraduate general chemistry, without physics underneath and biology above. However, if you approach chemical thermodynamics with a concrete basis in force and energy, you can relate the internal energy changes driving heat flow and entropy change to a fundamental understanding of the particle level in substances, and when you bring chemical thermodynamics to your understanding of biochemistry, your appreciation of life processes will become much more coherent and much more interesting.