Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics

This law states that if object A is in thermal equilibrium with object B, and object B is in thermal equilibrium with object C, then object C is also in thermal equilibrium with object A. This law allows us to build thermometers. For example the length of a mercury column (object B) may be used as a measure to compare the temperatures of the two other objects.

Other definition

The zeroth law of thermodynamics is an observation. When two objects are separately in thermodynamic equilibrium with a third object, they are in equilibrium with each other.

This simple observation allows us to create a thermometer. We can calibrate the change in a thermal property, such as the length of a column of mercury, by putting the thermometer in thermal equilibrium with a known physical system at several reference points. Celsius thermometers have the reference points fixed at the freezing and boiling point of pure water. If we then bring the thermometer into thermal equilibrium with any other system, such as the bottom of your tongue, we can determine the temperature of the other system by noting the change in the thermal property. Objects in thermodynamic equilibrium have the same temperature.

It is observed that some property of an object, like the pressure in a volume of gas, the length of a metal rod, or the electrical conductivity of a wire, can change when the object is heated or cooled. If two of these objects are brought into physical contact there is initially a change in the property of both objects. But, eventually, the change in property stops and the objects are said to be in thermal, or thermodynamic, equilibrium. Thermodynamic equilibrium leads to the large scale definition of temperature. When two objects are in thermal equilibrium they are said to have the same temperature. During the process of reaching thermal equilibrium, heat, which is a form of energy, is transferred between the objects.