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# Open vs Closed Systems

In thermodynamics, a system refers to a specific region of space, or a collection of matter, that is being studied. An open system is a system that allows both matter and energy to be exchanged with its surroundings. A closed system is a system that allows energy to be exchanged with its surroundings, but not matter.

• What is a System?
• Open System
• Closed System
• Isolated System
• FAQs

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## What is a System?

In thermodynamics, a system refers to a specific region of space, or a collection of matter, that is being studied. This system is defined by its boundaries, which may be real or imaginary, and by the variables that are used to describe it, such as pressure, temperature, and volume. The behavior of a system can be analyzed and predicted by applying the principles of thermodynamics to the variables that describe it.

There are three types of systems in thermodynamics: open systems, closed systems, and isolated systems. Each of these systems has different characteristics, which affect their behavior and the way they interact with their surroundings.

### 1. Open System

An open system is a system that allows both matter and energy to be exchanged with its surroundings. This means that both heat and mass can enter or leave the system. An example of an open system is a pot of boiling water on a stove. The heat from the stove enters the system, and the steam that is produced can escape into the surrounding air.

The water can also evaporate, losing mass, while new water molecules can be added. In addition to allowing the exchange of matter and energy, open systems are often characterized by a continuous flow or circulation of materials. For example, a river system can be considered an open system as water (matter) and energy (such as heat and kinetic energy) flow through it.

### 2. Closed System

A closed system is a system that allows energy to be exchanged with its surroundings, but not matter. This means that the system is isolated from its surroundings in terms of mass. An example of a closed system is a piston-cylinder arrangement used in a heat engine. The gas inside the cylinder can expand or contract to do work, but the mass of the gas remains constant.

The energy from the heat source can enter the system, and the heat can be removed from the surroundings as well. Closed systems, while not allowing the exchange of matter, can still exchange energy with their surroundings. This energy exchange can occur through processes such as heat transfer or work done on or by the system. It’s important to note that closed systems can also experience changes in their internal energy due to energy interactions.

### 3. Isolated System

An isolated system is a system that does not allow either matter or energy to be exchanged with its surroundings. This means that the system is completely isolated from its surroundings. An example of an isolated system is a thermos bottle. The contents of the thermos are completely insulated from the outside environment, and neither matter nor energy can enter or leave the system.

An isolated system, as mentioned before, does not allow the exchange of matter or energy with its surroundings. It is a theoretical concept used in thermodynamics to simplify certain calculations and analysis. In practical terms, it is challenging to achieve a truly isolated system, but some highly insulated or well-controlled environments can approximate isolation to some extent.

In conclusion, systems are a fundamental concept in thermodynamics, which provide a framework for analyzing and understanding the behavior of matter and energy. The behavior of a system can be described and predicted by applying the principles of thermodynamics to the variables that describe it.

Examples of the three types of systems include a pot of boiling water as an open system, a piston-cylinder arrangement in a heat engine as a closed system, and a thermos bottle as an isolated system.

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## Open Systems

In biology, an open system refers to a system that allows the exchange of matter and energy with its environment. Open systems are characterized by a continuous input and output of materials and energy, which enables the system to maintain its structure and function over time.

Examples of open systems in biology include living organisms, ecosystems, and biological processes such as metabolism and respiration.

Living organisms: Living organisms are classic examples of open systems in biology. Organisms are continuously exchanging matter and energy with their environment, and these inputs and outputs are essential for maintaining the structure and function of the organism. For example, animals take in food and oxygen from their environment and release waste products and carbon dioxide through respiration.

Ecosystems: Ecosystems are also open systems, as they are composed of living and non-living components that exchange matter and energy with each other. For example, plants in an ecosystem absorb sunlight and nutrients from the soil to carry out photosynthesis and grow, while herbivores consume the plants for energy and nutrients, and carnivores consume the herbivores. Decomposers such as bacteria and fungi break down dead organic matter, releasing nutrients back into the ecosystem.

Biological processes: Biological processes such as metabolism and respiration are also open systems, as they involve the exchange of matter and energy with the environment. For example, during metabolism, cells take in nutrients such as glucose and oxygen from the bloodstream and convert them into energy, carbon dioxide, and waste products. Similarly, during respiration, organisms take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide and water vapor.

In conclusion, open systems in biology are characterized by the exchange of matter and energy with the environment, which allows the system to maintain its structure and function over time. Examples of open systems in biology include living organisms, ecosystems, and biological processes such as metabolism and respiration.

## Closed systems

In biology, a closed system refers to a system that does not exchange matter with its surroundings, but it can exchange energy. Closed systems are rare in biology, and they are often idealized models used to simplify complex systems for study.

One example of a closed system in biology is a sealed laboratory flask containing a nutrient broth that is inoculated with bacterial cells. In this example, the flask is sealed to prevent any exchange of matter with the outside environment, but energy in the form of heat and light can still enter and leave the system. The bacterial cells can consume nutrients and produce waste products, but these substances cannot escape the flask, nor can any substances from the outside environment enter the flask. This closed system can be used to study the growth and behavior of bacterial cells under controlled conditions.

Another example of a closed system in biology is a culture of cells in a petri dish. The cells are grown in a nutrient medium that is sealed inside the dish. The cells can consume nutrients and oxygen from the medium, but no new matter can enter the system. Waste products and carbon dioxide are produced as byproducts of cellular respiration, but these substances cannot leave the dish. Like the sealed laboratory flask, this closed system allows researchers to study the behavior and physiology of cells under controlled conditions.

In both of these examples, it is important to note that the systems are not completely closed, as energy can still enter and leave the systems. However, in the context of biological systems, closed systems are typically defined as those that do not exchange matter with their surroundings, regardless of energy exchange.

## FAQS

##### What is the main difference between open and closed systems?

The main difference between open and closed systems is the exchange of matter and energy with their surroundings. Open systems allow for the exchange of both matter and energy, while closed systems allow for the exchange of only energy, but not matter.

##### What are some examples of closed systems?

Some examples of closed systems include a sealed container with gas inside, a fully insulated thermos, and a planet in space. In biology, examples of closed systems are rare but can include sealed laboratory flasks or petri dishes containing cells or microorganisms.

##### What are some examples of open systems?

Some examples of open systems include living organisms, ecosystems, and natural processes such as the water cycle or rock weathering. In biology, examples of open systems include animals and plants, which exchange matter and energy with their environment to maintain their structure and function.

##### Can a system be both open and closed?

No, a system cannot be both open and closed at the same time. A system is either open, allowing for the exchange of matter and energy, or closed, allowing for the exchange of only energy, but not matter.

##### Why are open and closed systems important in science?

Open and closed systems are important in science because they help scientists understand how different systems function and interact with their surroundings. By studying open and closed systems, scientists can make predictions about how these systems will behave under different conditions, which can have important practical applications in fields such as engineering, environmental science, and medicine.

Kathleen Currence is one of the founders of eTutorWorld. Previously a middle school principal in Kansas City School District, she has an MA in Education from the University of Dayton, Ohio. She is a prolific writer, and likes to explain Science topics in student-friendly language. LinkedIn Profile

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