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Madison Werthmann

Thermodynamics of a Rubber Band
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor
destroyed, only transferred. The concepts of this law were displayed by stretching a rubber band
and conducting a simple experiment. First, the rubber band was placed against the researchers
forehead, and then slowly stretched and released. When the rubber band was stretched, it felt
warmer against the researchers skin; when the rubber band was released back to its original
relaxed state, it felt cooler. These occurrences can be explained by the First Law of
As stated before, when the rubber band was stretched from its relaxed state to a taut state,
it began to feel warmer against the researchers forehead. This was due to the change in the
enthalpy of the system the rubber band. If the system was held at a constant pressure, as the
rubber band was, then by the definition of enthalpy, the enthalpy of the system was directly
related to the heat. That means that when the system was releasing heat into its surroundings in
this case, the researchers forehead it was losing enthalpy, thereby giving it a negative enthalpy
(it should be noted that a negative enthalpy did not mean the heat had a value less than zero, but
instead that there was a flow of heat out of the system). This is called an exothermic process
because it is releasing heat and enthalpy. The researcher felt warmth because although the system
itself was losing heat, the surroundings were gaining that same magnitude of heat. This heat is
also directly related to the energy of the system. For this particular portion of the experiment
the stretching of the rubber band the energy was kinetic energy because it was the energy of an
object in motion. This energy was used in changing the molecular structure of the rubber band.
Rubber is a polymer a large molecule made of repeating subunits whose subunits sometimes
cross and become chemically bonded to each other until the polymer is a random, jumbled

Madison Werthmann
assortment of subunits. However, when the rubber band was stretched, the subunits began to
straighten out and the energy that was being used to hold the bonded portions together was
released, thereby flowing from the system into the surroundings. The increase of energy use was
directly related to the increase of the movement of molecules, which correlates with the increase
of heat.
On the other hand, when the stretching of the rubber band was reversed, so were the
effects. When the rubber band was returned to its relaxed state, the subunits began to jumble
together again, and energy had to be absorbed into the system to once more chemically bond the
crossing subunits. Since the system was absorbing heat from its surroundings, thereby causing
the surroundings to feel cooler, contracting the rubber band was an endothermic process.
Because heat was being absorbed, the enthalpy of this process was positive there was a flow of
heat into the system. When the energy was absorbed into the system to hold the subunits of the
polymer together in a chemical bond, the energy became potential energy stored energy in an
object by virtue of the objects position. Similarly, there was also stored potential energy when the
rubber band was stretched to its maximum ability.
The processes mentioned above exhibited the First Law of Thermodynamics. Although
the heat, and therefore energy, was transferred between the system and its surroundings, the
energy was never created nor destroyed. The energys uses were changed and its location of use
was transferred, but the amount of energy always remained the same between the system and the
surroundings as the rubber band was stretched and relaxed.
While the First Law of Thermodynamics can be applied on an overwhelming scale in
context of the universe and the energy within it, the First Law was actually a simple idea that
could be exhibited in a basic, everyday occurrence. One of the easiest ways to display this law

Madison Werthmann
was to observe the properties of a rubber band as it was stretched and released. Stretching this
rubber band caused it to become warmer against the skin, making it an exothermic process
because the system lost heat; releasing it to its original state caused it to feel cooler against the
skin, which is an endothermic process because the system absorbed heat from the surroundings.
Whether the heat energy was released or absorbed, though, the amount of energy between the
system and the surroundings always stayed the same, which simply displayed the First Law of