Carnot, Nicolas Léonard Sadi

Carnot, Nicolas Léonard Sadi kärnōˈ [key], 1796–1832, French physicist, a founder of modern thermodynamics; son of Lazare N. M. Carnot. His famous work on the motive power of heat (Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu, 1824) is concerned with the relation between heat and mechanical energy. Carnot devised an ideal engine in which a gas is allowed to expand to do work, absorbing heat in the process, and is expanded again without transfer of heat but with a temperature drop. The gas is then compressed, heat being given off, and finally it is returned to its original condition by another compression, accompanied by a rise in temperature. This series of operations, known as Carnot's cycle, shows that even under ideal conditions a heat engine cannot convert into mechanical energy all the heat energy supplied to it; some of the heat energy must be rejected. This is an illustration of the second law of thermodynamics. Carnot's work anticipated that of Joule, Kelvin, and others.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics: Biographies