Sadi Carnot was a French engineer (one of the few engineers that history remembers) who contributed greatly to the development of the field of thermodynamics. Although he only published one paper, which went largely unrecognized during his life, a testament to the influence of his ideas is the fact that his ideal heat engine is well known to modern day students of thermodynamics.
Sadi Carnot was born in France in 1796. His life took place during turbulent times; France endured thirty-five years of war, revolution, and unending political turmoil. Twice Napoleon came to power, and twice he was driven out and the monarchy restored. Sadi Carnot's father, Lazare, was one of the most powerful men in France during the early nineteenth century.
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In 1822-23 he wrote a paper on the work produced by steam, but never published it. He did publish his one major work in 1824: a book called Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire. In this book he put forth his Carnot cycle, which describes the operation of a theoretical ideal heat engine that operates at 100% efficiency; that is, the amount of work produced by the engine would be equal to the heat energy put into the system. This engine is impossible to construct, due to the fact that there is no way to build a machine that does not lose at least a small amount of energy in friction, noise, vibration or other energy-sapping imperfections. The concept is useful, however, in establishing the maximum energy that a heat engine operating between two temperatures can produce.
One flaw in Carnot's theories was his concept that heat was actually a weightless, invisible fluid called caloric. This incorrect caloric concept is understandable; at the time, it was the accepted explanation for heat. Additionally, Sadi Carnot derived much of his conceptual understanding of heat engines from Lazare Carnot's water engines, which made the connection between water and caloric "heat-fluid" seem natural.
Carnot was a scientific outsider. He wrote Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire in a way that was not