My post of December 21st, 2012 on ‘Closed systems in nature?’ is my most popular based on the statistics from WordPress. These statistics led me to go back and read it again, which set me thinking along the same lines while tending the barbeque in our backyard. A sausage is a nice example of a closed system with a boundary, or skin, that is impervious to mass or material moving across the boundary but which allows energy transfer in the form of heat.
Heat transfers into the system [sausage] through the boundary [skin] adjacent to the hot charcoal in my barbeque and heat transfers out on the opposite side. Heat is simply energy transfer that occurs along a temperature gradient or across a temperature difference, from a higher to a lower temperature.
The temperature difference between the hot charcoal at about 375 degrees Centigrade and a sausage starting to cook at about 70 degrees is larger than the difference between the sausage and the air above it at say 35 degrees Centigrade, so more heat [energy] is transferred into than out of the sausage. The difference between the energy in and out is used to heat and cook the sausage including starting to boil the water-content and trigger chemical reactions associated with cooking. This is a manifestation of the first law of thermodynamics for the closed system, i.e. heat transfer in minus heat transfer out equals the change in the energy content of the system. The net flux of heat into the sausage causes it to get hot and be cooked.
You can’t avoid thermodynamics, it gets involved in everything!