What are the Scientific Roots of Sadi Carnot’s Cycle?

  • Charles Coulston Gillispie
  • Raffaele Pisano
Part of the History of Mechanism and Machine Science book series (HMMS, volume 19)


In this section we investigate the possible origin of the idea of the cycle in Sadi Carnot’s work , following the hypothesis of an analogy with the electric circuit in Alessandro Volta ’s battery . First we will present a comparison from the standpoint of the fundamental concepts between Sadi Carnot ’s theory of thermodynamics and the theory of electricity . Secondly we will propose an analogy between Carnot’s cycle and the cyclic path of the I current in Volta ’s battery , whose current (between two potentials ) corresponds to the heat flux which flows between the two thermostats of two reversible heat engines paired by Sadi Carnot. Additionally, we will report and comment on some analogies between electrostatic , electric phenomena and heat engines . In conclusion we present a global vision of every possible connection and will discuss its compatibility.


Work Work Cycle Cycle Energy Energy Physic Physic Mass Mass 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bussotti P, Pisano R (2013) On the conceptual and civilization frames in René Descartes’ physical works. Adv Hist Stud (in press)Google Scholar
  2. Pisano R (2012b) Historical reflections on the physics mathematics relationship in electromagnetic theory. In: Barbin E, Pisano R (eds) The dialectic relation between physics and mathematics in the XIXth century. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 31–58Google Scholar
  3. Callendar HL (1910) Caloric theory of heat and Carnot’s principle. Proc Phys Soc Lond 23(1):153–189CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  4. Carnot L (1778) Mémoire sur la théorie des machines pour concourir au prix de 1779 propose par l’Académie Royale des Sciences de Paris. The manuscript is conserved in the Archives de l’Academie des sciences, Institut de France, and consists of 85 sections in 63 folios. Sections 27–60 are reproduced. In: Gillispie 1971, Appendix B, pp 271–296Google Scholar
  5. Carnot L (1780) Mémoire sur la théorie des machines pour concourir au prix que l’Académie Royale des Sciences de Paris doit adjuger en 1781. The manuscript is dated from Béthune 15 July 1780. It is conserved in the Archives de l’Académie des sciences, Institut de France, and consists of 191 sections in 106 folios. Sections 101–160 are reproduced. In: Gillispie 1971, Appendix C, pp 299–343Google Scholar
  6. Carnot L (1786) Essai sur les machines en général. Defay, DijonGoogle Scholar
  7. Carnot S (1878a) Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu sur les machinés propre à développer cette puissance.35 Archives of the Académie des Science–Institut de France, ParisGoogle Scholar
  8. Carnot S (1978a) Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu sur les machinés propre à développer cette puissance, édition critique par Fox Robert. Vrin J, ParisGoogle Scholar
  9. Carnot S (1978b) Recherche d’une formule propre à représenter la puissance motrice de la vapeur d’eau. In: Carnot S (ed), pp 223–234Google Scholar
  10. Drago A, Pisano R (2005) La nota matematica nelle Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu di Sadi Carnot: interpretazione del calcolo col metodo sintetico. Quad Stor della Fisica–Giornale di Fisica 13:37–57Google Scholar
  11. Falk G (1985) Entropy, a resurrection of caloric – a look at the history of thermodynamics. Eur J Phys 6:108–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Falk G, Hermann F, Schmid GB (1983) Energy forms or energy carriers? Am J Phys 51(12):1074–1077CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fuchs HU (1986) A surrealistic tale of electricity. Am J Phys 54(10):907–909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fuchs HU (1987) Entropy in the teaching of introductory thermodynamics. Am J Phys 55(3):215–216MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fuchs HU (1996) The dynamics of heat. Springer–Verlag, New YorkCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  16. Galvani L (1791) De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius. De Bononiensis Scientiarum et Artium atque Accademia Commentarii VII, pp 363–418 [Id., (1953) Commentary on the Effects of Electricity on Muscolar Motion (trans: Foley M). Burndy Library, Norwalk]Google Scholar
  17. Galvani L (1794a) Dell’uso e dell’attività dell’arco conduttore nelle contrazioni de’ muscoli. S Tommaso d’Aquino. Bologna. In Galvani [1841] 1988, pp 155–278Google Scholar
  18. Galvani L (1794b) Supplemento al trattato dell’arco conduttore. S Tommaso d’Aquino. Bologna. In Galvani [1841] 1988, pp 279–299Google Scholar
  19. Galvani L (1797) Memorie sulla elettricità animale al celebre abate Lazzaro Spallanzani Professore nella Università di Pavia. In: Galvani 1841, pp 299–434Google Scholar
  20. Galvani L ([1841] 1998) Opere edite ed inedite di Luigi Galvani. In: Gherardi S (ed). Tipografia di Emidio Dall’Olmo, BolognaGoogle Scholar
  21. Gillispie CC (1971) Lazare Carnot Savant. A monograph treating Carnot’s scientific work, with facsimile reproduction of his unpublished writings on mechanics and on the calculus, and an essay concerning the latter by Youschkevitch AP. Princeton University Press, PrincetonzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  22. Grattan-Guinness I (1990) Convolutions in French mathematics. Birklausen, BaselzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  23. Grattan–Guinness I (1990b) Work for the workers: engineering mechanics and its instruction. In: Grattan–Guinness (ed), pp 1046–1121Google Scholar
  24. Kuhn TS (1959) Energy conservation as example of simultaneous discovery. In: Clagett M (ed) Critical problems in the history of science. Wisconsin University Press, Madison, pp 321–356Google Scholar
  25. Mach E (1896) Die Prinzipien der Wärmelehre. Historisch–kritisch entwickelt. Barth JA, Brockhaus, LeipzigzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  26. Mach E (1986) In: McGuinness B (ed) Principles of the theory of heat, historically and critically elucidated, vol 17. Reidel D Publishing Co, BostonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pisano R (2001) Interpretazione della nota matematica nelle Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu di Sadi Carnot. In: Proceedings of XX SISFA Congress, Osservatiorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Napoli, pp 205–23036 Google Scholar
  28. Pisano R (2003) Il ciclo di S Carnot e la pila di A Volta. In: Garuccio A (ed) Proceedings of del XXIII SISFA Congress, Progedit, Bari, pp 327–348Google Scholar
  29. Pisano R (2007b) A history of chemistry à la Koyré? Introduction and setting of an epistemological problem. Khimiya 17(2):143–161Google Scholar
  30. Pisano R (2008) Il ruolo della scienza meccanica nella progettazione degli architetti e degli ingegneri del Rinascimento (The role played by mechanical science in the architects and engineers in the Renaissance), PhD dissertations, Roma, 2 vols. University of Roma la Sapienza, Roma37 Google Scholar
  31. Pisano R (2010) On principles in Sadi Carnot’s thermodyamics (1824). Epistemological reflections. Almagest Int Interdiscip J 2(2010):128–179CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  32. Pisano R (2011b) Historical reflections on the physics mathematics relationship in electromagnetic theory. In: Barbin E, Pisano R (eds) The dialectic relation between physics and mathematics in the XIXth century, Springer, Dordrecht, in pressGoogle Scholar
  33. Pisano R (2011c) Physics–mathematics relationship. Historical and epistemological notes. In: Barbin E, Kronfellner M Tzanakis C, (eds) Proceedings of the ESU 6 European summer university history and epistemology in mathematics, Verlag Holzhausen GmbH–Holzhausen Publishing Ltd., Vienna, pp 457–472Google Scholar
  34. Poisson SD (1823a) Sur la chaleur de gaz et des vapeurs. Ann Chim Phys XXXIII:337–352Google Scholar
  35. Poisson SD (1823b) Sur la vitesse du son. Ann Chim Phys XXIII:5–16Google Scholar
  36. Poisson SD (1833) Traité de Mécanique. Bachelier, ParisGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmid GB (1984) An up – to – date approach to physics. Am J Phys 52(9):794–799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Volta A (1782) XVI. Del modo di render sensibilissima la più debole Elettricità sia Naturale, sia Artificiale. By Mr. Alexander Volta, Professor of experimental philosophy in Como, &; communicated by Right Hon. George Earl Cowper, FRS. Read on March 14, 1782. Davis L, Elmsly Printers to the Royal Society. Philosophical transaction of the royal society of London LXXII/I:237–280Google Scholar
  39. Volta A (1796) Lettera Terza del Sig Cav Don Alessandro Volta P Professore, Al Sig Ab Anton Maria Vassalli Professore di Fisica a Torino, 24 ottobre 1795. Annali di chimica e storia naturale 11:84–128Google Scholar
  40. Volta A (1799) L’elettroscopio condensatore in una lettera a Lorenzo Mascheroni. In: Opere scelte di Alessandro Volta, p 511Google Scholar
  41. Volta A (1800a) Sull’elettricità eccitata dal semplice contatto di sostanze conduttrici di diversa natura in una lettera di Alessandro Volta a Sir Joseph Banks, da Como nel Milanese, 20 marzo 1800. In: Opere scelte di Alessandro Volta, pp 514–534Google Scholar
  42. Volta A (1800b) On the electricity excited by the mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds. In a letter from Mr. Alexander Volta … to the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Banks … Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society II:403–431Google Scholar
  43. Volta A (1816) Lettera Settima [and Addizione alla Lettera Settima]. In: Collezione dell’Opere del Cavaliere Conte Alessandro Volta Patrizio Comasco. Membro dell’Istituto Reale del Regno Lombardo Veneto, Professore Emerito dell’Università di Pavia, e Socio delle più Illustri Accademie d’Europa. Tomo I. Parte II. Nella stamperia di Guglielmo Piatti, Firenze, pp 238–283Google Scholar
  44. Volta A (1918–1929) Le Opere di Alessandro Volta Edizione Nazionale, vol I–VII. Ulrico Hoepli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  45. Volta A ([1968] 1998) Opere scelte di Alessandro Volta. In: Gliozzi M (ed) reprint with new bibliograhy, UTET, TorinoGoogle Scholar
  46. Volta A (1987) L’elettromozione. In: Recenti M (ed) Theoria, RomaGoogle Scholar
  47. Zeuner G ([1860], 1866) Grundzüge der mechanischen Wärmetheorie mit besonderer Rücksicht auf das Verhalten des Wasserdampfes, 2nd edn. Freiberg, EngelhardtGoogle Scholar
  48. Scott WL (1971) The conflict between atomism and conservation laws 1640–1860. Elsevier Publishing Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Truesdell CA (1980) The tragicomical history of thermodynamics. 1822–1854. Springer, BerlinCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  50. Ørsted HC (1822) Instruments pour mesurer la compression de l’eau. Annales de chimie et de physique XXI:99–100Google Scholar
  51. Ørsted HC (1823) Sur la compressibilité de l’eau. Annales de chimie et de physique XXII:192–198Google Scholar
  52. Ampère AM (1822a) Recueil d'observation électrodynamiques. Crochard, Paris.Google Scholar
  53. Ampère AM (1822b) Extrait d'une lettre d'Ampère au Professeur de la Rive sur des expériences électro-magnétiques et sur la formule qui représente l'action mutuelle de deux portions infiniment petites de courants électriques–12 juin 1822. Bibliothèque universelle des sciences, belles–lettres, et arts XX: 185–192.Google Scholar
  54. Ampère AM (1826) Théorie des phénomènes électro-dynamiques uniquement déduite de l'expérience. Méquignon-Marvis, PariszbMATHGoogle Scholar
  55. Ampère AM (1827) Théorie mathématiques des phénomènes électro-dynamiques uniquement déduite de l'expérience. Chez Firmin Didot, ParisGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles Coulston Gillispie
    • 1
  • Raffaele Pisano
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of HistoryPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  2. 2.SCité University of Lille 1LilleFrance

Personalised recommendations