Interactive Self-Study Module: Carnot Cycle


This module uses screencasts and interactive simulation(s) 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. Your retention of material in this module will increase if you write down reasons for your answers to ConcepTests, questions in screencasts, and questions to answer before using the interactive simulation(s), and you try to solve the example problems before watching the screencast solutions. We suggest using the learning resources in the following order:

  1. Attempt to answer the multiple-choice ConcepTest and solve the example problem 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. Review important equations for the Carnot cycle.
  4. Use the interactive simulation(s) to further understand the behavior of the Carnot cycle.
  5. Try to solve the example problems before watching the solutions in the screencasts.
  6. Answer the ConcepTests.
  7. Look at the list of key points, but only after you try to list the key points yourself.
  • 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 be able to:
After studying this module, you should be able to:
  • Sketch the Carnot cycle on a temperature-entropy (T-S) or a pressure-volume (P-V) diagram.
  • Calculate heat added, heat removed, or work for a Carnot cycle, and the thermal efficiency.
  • Explain how thermal efficiency changes as the high and low temperatures for a Carnot cycle change.
  • Calculate the coefficient of performance (COP) for a Carnot heat pump.
  • Explain how COP changes as the high and low temperatures of a Carnot cycle change