An isothermal process is a thermodynamic process, in which the temperature of the system remains constant (T = const). The heat transfer into or out of the system typically must happen at such a slow rate in order to continually adjust to the temperature of the reservoir through heat exchange. In each of these states the thermal equilibrium is maintained.
For an ideal gas and a polytropic process, the case n = 1 corresponds to an isothermal (constant-temperature) process. In contrast to adiabatic process , in which n = κ and a system exchanges no heat with its surroundings (Q = 0; ∆T≠0), in an isothermal process there is no change in the internal energy (due to ∆T=0) and therefore ΔU = 0 (for ideal gases) and Q ≠ 0. An adiabatic process is not necessarily an isothermal process, nor is an isothermal process necessarily adiabatic.
In engineering, phase changes, such as evaporation or melting, are isothermal processes when, as is usually the case, they occur at constant pressure and temperature.
Isothermal Curve – Isotherm
On a pV diagram, the process occurs along a line called isothermal curve or an isotherm. This curve has the equation p = constant / V. It can be derived from ideal gas law.
pV = nRT
- p is the absolute pressure of the gas
- n is the amount of substance
- T is the absolute temperature
- V is the volume
- R is the ideal, or universal, gas constant, equal to the product of the Boltzmann constant and the Avogadro constant,
In this equation the symbol R is a constant called the universal gas constant that has the same value for all gases—namely, R = 8.31 J/mol K.
The isothermal process can be expressed with the ideal gas law as:
pV = constant
and the isotherm can be expressed as:
p = constant / V
It corresponds to the Boyle-Mariotte Law, which states that:
For a fixed mass of gas at constant temperature, the volume is inversely proportional to the pressure.