Joule's experiments and the first law of thermodynamics

The formulation of the principle of conservation of energy is an example of the long maturation, almost two and a half centuries, of an idea that became one of the fundamental laws of physics whose generalization was attained when it was formalized as the first law of thermodynamics. In this paper, an analysis of the different formulations of the first law is presented, aimed at rescuing historic information that could contribute to the teaching of thermodynamics. It is shown that by the end of the nineteenth century it was already difficult to affirm who discovered the principle of equivalence of energy, because several scholars were interested in this subject, and how the meticulous experiments of Joule allowed the demonstration of equivalence among different kinds of energy and contributed definitively to the elaboration of the first law of thermodynamics.

energy conservation; first law; thermodynamics; history of science

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