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Inquiry-Based Activity 2: Piston/Cylinder Simulation

Student Name or Number __________________________

In this experiment, you will be simulating expansion and contraction of an ideal gas in a piston-
cylinder system. You can perform an adiabatic, isothermal, isobaric or isochoric steps with the
piston and create a cycle that returns the piston to its initial state. After you have completed the
cycle, the thermal efficiency of the cycle will be shown along with the efficiency for a Carnot
engine or heat pump running between the same temperatures.

1 computer with web browser and Macromedia Flash per person or team
An internet connection

1. Consider a thermodynamic engine cycle. A typical heat-engine cycle consists of four
steps, during which heat energy is added to the system, work is done by the system,
waste heat is rejected from the system, and work is done on the system. What is the
best efficiency that you can achieve? What if you assume frictionless and reversible?
What if you skip the “waste heat” step?

2. Open the Piston Cylinder program if it is not already open and click on where it says
“Click here to continue”, at the web address specified by your faculty. Note that in
the calculations for the program, the piston is assumed to be frictionless and all the
steps are reversible.

3. To learn how to use this simulation, please implement this sample cycle. Using the
program, perform the following steps:
a. Isothermal expansion from 40 cm to 60 cm.
b. Isochoric cooling from 293 K to 193 K.
c. Isothermal compression from 60 cm to 40 cm.
d. Isochoric heating from 193 K to 293 K.
This is a Stirling Cycle.
4. What was the efficiency for this cycle? ________
5. What was the Carnot efficiency? ________

Inquiry-based materials for entropy NSF DUE-0717536 © 2011 all rights reserved

were you able to create a cycle without a “waste heat” step? What does this tell you about such steps? Note: Please discuss your answers with at least one classmate. be sure to include your original prediction in addition to the answers to the analysis questions. If what was observed contrasts your prediction. 7. When turning in this assignment. Inquiry-based materials for entropy NSF DUE-0717536 © 2011 all rights reserved 6 . 4. explain what happened and why. 2. Please visit the website link provided by your professor to answer a few questions about this activity. Try to create a cycle where there is no step rejecting “waste” heat. What have you noticed about the efficiencies of your cycles compared to the Carnot values at the same temperatures? Analysis – to be completed after lab and handed in: 1. Revisit your predictions in question 1 of Directions. While using the simulator. Note the different steps you take below. Were you right? Compare your initial predictions to what actually happened. 3. Spend 5-10 minutes trying different combinations of steps of your own choosing. Don’t forget to include your name / identifying number. 6. Were you able to create an engine cycle that omits the “waste heat” step? 8. Discuss the experiment with your group before answering.