Steam Engines and Heat Flow
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796–1832) was born in the Palais du Petit- Luxembourg in Paris. His father, a famous mathematician and minister of war under Napoleon, named his son after the eminent medieval Persian poet Sadi of Shiraz. Carnot attended the Charlemagne Lycée before enrolling at the age of 16 in the École Polytechnique, the elite military academy which attracted many famous scientists and mathematicians during the age of the French Revolution: Biot, Arago, Laplace, Fourier, Gay-Lussac, Ampère, and Poisson. After his graduation in 1814, Carnot served as a cadet sub-lieutenant in the engineer corps at Metz, a position which he found increasingly frustrating and confining after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and his father’s consequent retirement and exile to Magdeburg, Germany. So in 1819 Carnot took an examination and was appointed a lieutenant in the French general staff. After attaining a furlough he increasingly turned his attention to the study of scientific matters, particularly the writings of Pascal and the design of steam engines. This latter interest would eventually lead to his only publication in 1824. Carnot’s Réflexions sur la puissance mortice du feu went largely unnoticed until after his death from cholera at the age of 36. Several years later, Clausius and Kelvin developed Carnot’s seminal ideas on heat engines into one of the foundations of modern science: the second law of thermodynamics. The reading selections that follow are from an 1897 English translation by Robert Henry Thurston (Fig. 3.1).