Joule’s mechanical equivalent of heat
The temperature of an object can be increased by heating it or by doing some work on it. In the eighteenth century, James Prescott Joule showed that mechanical energy can be converted into internal energy and vice versa. In his experiment, two masses were attached with a rope and a paddle wheel as shown in Figure 8.19. When these masses fall through a distance h due to gravity, both the masses lose potential energy equal to 2mgh. When the masses fall, the paddle wheel turns. Due to the turning of wheel inside water, frictional force comes in between the water and the paddle wheel.
This causes a rise in temperature of the water. This implies that gravitational potential energy is converted to internal energy of water. The temperature of water increases due to the work done by the masses. In fact, Joule was able to show that the mechanical work has the same effect as giving heat. He found that to raise 1 g of an object by 1°C , 4.186 J of energy is required. In earlier days the heat was measured in calorie.
1 cal = 4.186 J
This is called Joule’s mechanical equivalent of heat.
A student had a breakfast of 200 food calories. He thinks of burning this energy by drawing water from the well and watering the trees in his school. Depth of the well is about 25 m. The pot can hold 25L of water and each tree requires one pot of water. How many trees can he water? (Neglect the mass of the pot and the energy spent by walking. Take g =10 m s-2)
To draw 25 L of water from the well, the student has to do work against gravity by burning his energy.
Mass of the water = 25 L = 25 kg (1L=1kg )
The work required to draw 25 kg of water = gravitational potential energy gained by water.
W = mgh = 25×10×25 = 6250 J
The total energy gained from the food = 200 food cal =200 kcal.
= 200×103 × 4.186 J = 8.37 ×105 J
If we assume that by using this energy the student can drawn ‘n’ pots of water from the well, the total energy spent by him = 8.37 × 105 J = nmgh
This n is also equal to the number of trees that he can water.
Is it possible to draw 134 pots of water from the well just by having breakfast? No. Actually the human body does not convert entire food energy into work. It is only approximately 20% efficient. It implies that only 20% of 200 food calories is used to draw water from the well. So 20 % of the 134 is only 26 pots of water. It is quite meaningful. So he can water only 26 trees.
The remaining energy is used for blood circulation and other functions of the body. It is to be noted that some energy is always ‘wasted’. Why is it that the body cannot have 100% efficiency? You will find the answer in section 8.9