*Historical background*

Every student of thermodynamics sooner or later encounters the Maxwell relations – an extremely useful set of statements of equality among partial derivatives, principally involving the state variables P, V, T and S. They are general thermodynamic relations valid for all systems.

The four relations originally stated by Maxwell are easily derived from the (exact) differential relations of the thermodynamic potentials:

dU = TdS – PdV ⇒ (∂T/∂V)_{S} = –(∂P/∂S)_{V}

dH = TdS + VdP ⇒ (∂T/∂P)_{S} = (∂V/∂S)_{P}

dG = –SdT + VdP ⇒ –(∂S/∂P)_{T} = (∂V/∂T)_{P}

dA = –SdT – PdV ⇒ (∂S/∂V)_{T} = (∂P/∂T)_{V}

This is how we obtain these Maxwell relations today, but it disguises the history of their discovery. The thermodynamic state functions H, G and A were yet to be created when Maxwell published the above relations in his 1871 textbook * Theory of Heat*. The startling fact is that Maxwell navigated his way to these relations using nothing more than a diagram of the Carnot cycle, allied to an ingenious exercise in plane geometry.

Another historical truth that modern derivations conceal is that entropy did not feature as the conjugate variable to temperature (θ) in Maxwell’s original relations; instead Maxwell used Rankine’s thermodynamic function (Φ) which is identical with – and predates – the state function entropy (S) introduced by Clausius in 1865.

Maxwell’s use of Φ instead of S was not a matter of personal preference. It could not have been otherwise, because * Maxwell misunderstood the term entropy* at the time when he wrote his book (1871), believing it to represent the available energy of a system. From a dimensional perspective – and one must remember that Maxwell was one of the founders of dimensional analysis – it was impossible for entropy as he understood it to be the conjugate variable to temperature. By contrast, it was clear to Maxwell that Rankine’s Φ had the requisite dimensions of ML

^{2}T

^{-2}θ

^{-1}.

Two years later, in an 1873 publication entitled *A method of geometrical representation of the thermodynamic properties of substances by means of surfaces*, the American physicist Josiah Willard Gibbs politely pointed out Maxwell’s error in regard to the units of measurement of entropy:

Maxwell responded in a subsequent edition of *Theory of Heat* with a contrite apology for misleading his readers:

**– – – –**

*Carnot Cycle revisited*

The centrepiece of the geometrical construction with which Maxwell proves his thermodynamic relations is a quadrilateral drawn 37 years earlier by Émile Clapeyron in his 1834 paper *Mémoire sur la Puissance Motrice de la Chaleur* (Memoir on the motive power of heat).

This is the first analytical representation of the Carnot cycle, shown as a closed curve on a pressure-volume indicator diagram. The sides *ab* and *cd* represent isothermal lines, the sides *ad* and *bc* adiabatic lines. By assigning infinitely small values to the variations of volume and pressure during the successive operations of the cycle, Clapeyron renders this quadrilateral a parallelogram.

The area enclosed by the curve equates to the work done in a complete cycle, and Maxwell uses the following contrivance to set this area equal to unity.

Applying Carnot’s principle, Maxwell expresses the work W done as a function of the heat H supplied

W = H(T_{2} – T_{1})/T_{2}

with T_{2} and T_{1} representing the absolute temperatures of the source and sink respectively.

Maxwell then defines

T_{2} – T_{1} = 1

H/T_{2} = 1

The conversion of heat into work is thus expressed as the product of a unit change in temperature T and a unit change in Rankine’s thermodynamic function Φ, equivalent to entropy S:

W = Δ_{1}T . Δ_{1}S = 1

Maxwell’s definitions also give the parallelogram the property that any line drawn from one isothermal line to the other, or from one adiabatic line to the other, is of unit length when reckoned in the respective dimensions of temperature or entropy. This is of central significance to what follows.

**– – – –**

*Geometrical extensions*

Maxwell’s geometric machinations consist in extending the isothermal (T_{1}T_{2}) and adiabatic lines (Φ_{1}Φ_{2}) of the original figure ABCD and adding vertical lines (pressure) and horizontal lines (volume) to create four further parallelograms with the aim of proving their areas also equal to unity, while at the same time enabling each of these areas to be expressed in terms of pressure and volume as a base-altitude product.

– parallelogram AKQD stands on the same base AD as ABCD and lies between the same parallels T_{1}T_{2} so its area is also unity, expressible in terms of volume and pressure as the base-altitude product AK.Ak

– parallelogram ABEL stands on the same base AB as ABCD and lies between the same parallels Φ_{1}Φ_{2} so its area is also unity, expressible in terms of volume and pressure as the base-altitude product AL.Al

– parallelogram AMFD stands on the same base AD as ABCD and lies between the same parallels T_{1}T_{2} so its area is also unity, expressible in terms of pressure and volume as the base-altitude product AM.Am

– parallelogram ABHN stands on the same base AB as ABCD and lies between the same parallels Φ_{1}Φ_{2} so its area is also unity, expressible in terms of pressure and volume as the base-altitude product AN.An

– line AD, which represents a unit rise in entropy at constant temperature, resolves into the vertical (pressure) and horizontal (volume) components Ak and Am

– line AB, which represents a unit rise in temperature at constant entropy, resolves into the vertical (pressure) and horizontal (volume) components Al and An

– in summary: ABCD = AK.Ak = AL.Al = AM.Am = AN.An = 1 [dimensions ML^{2}T^{-2}]

**– – – –**

*Maxwell’s thermodynamic relations*

Maxwell’s next step is to interpret the physical meaning of these four pairs of lines.

AK is the volume increase per unit rise in temperature at constant pressure: (∂V/∂T)_{P}

Ak is the pressure decrease per unit rise in entropy at constant temperature: –(∂P/∂S)_{T}

Recalling the property of partial derivatives that given the implicit function *f(x,y,z)* = 0

Since AK = 1/Ak

**(∂V/∂T) _{P} = –(∂S/∂P)_{T}**

AL is the volume increase per unit rise in entropy at constant pressure: (∂V/∂S)_{P}

Al is the pressure increase per unit rise in temperature at constant entropy: (∂P/∂T)_{S}

Since AL = 1/Al

**(∂V/∂S) _{P} = (∂T/∂P)_{S}**

AM is the pressure increase per unit rise in temperature at constant volume: (∂P/∂T)_{V}

Am is the volume increase per unit rise in entropy at constant temperature: (∂V/∂S)_{T}

Since AM = 1/Am

**(∂P/∂T) _{V} = (∂S/∂V)_{T}**

AN is the pressure increase per unit rise in entropy at constant volume: (∂P/∂S)_{V}

An is the volume decrease per unit rise in temperature at constant entropy: –(∂V/∂T)_{S}

Since AN = 1/An

**(∂P/∂S) _{V} = –(∂T/∂V)_{S}**

**– – – –**

*In his own words*

I leave it to the man himself to conclude this post:

*“We have thus obtained four relations among the physical properties of the substance. These four relations are not independent of each other, so as to rank as separate truths. Any one might be deduced from any other. The equality of the products AK, Ak &c., to the parallelogram ABCD and to each other is merely a geometrical truth, and does not depend on thermodynamic principles. What we learn from thermodynamics is that the parallelogram and the four products are each equal to unity, whatever be the nature of the substance or its condition as to pressure and temperature.”*