This module uses screencasts and interactive simulations to explain the Carnot cycle, which is an idealized cycle that yields the maximum work that can be obtained by transferring heat from a high-temperature reservoir to a low-temperature reservoir. It then provides example problems to allow the user to test themselves. We suggest using the learning resources in the following order:

  1. Attempt to answer the multiple-choice ConcepTests before watching the screencasts or working with the simulations.
  2. Watch the screencasts that describe the Carnot cycle and answer the questions within the screencasts.
  3. Use the two interactive simulations to further understand the behavior of the Carnot cycle.
  4. Try to solve the example problem before watching the solution in the screencast.
  5. Answer the ConcepTests.

The Carnot cycle provides a standard for comparison; all other cycles generate less work for heat transfer between a high temperature reservoir and a low-temperature reservoir.

This module is intended for a thermodynamics course.

Before studying this module, you should:

After studying this module, you should be able to:
  1. Sketch the Carnot cycle on a temperature-entropy (T-S) or a pressure-volume (P-V) diagram. 
  2. Calculate heat added, heat removed, or work for a Carnot cycle, and the thermal efficiency.
  3. Explain how thermal efficiency changes as the high and low temperatures for a Carnot cycle change.
  4. Calculate the coefficient of performance (COP) for a Carnot heat pump.
  5. Explain how COP changes as the high and low temperatures of a Carnot cycle change.