Entropy, Vol. 20, Pages 328: The Gibbs Paradox: Lessons from Thermodynamics

Research paper by Janneke van Lith

Indexed on: 03 Jun '18Published on: 30 Apr '18Published in: Entropy (Basel, Switzerland)


The Gibbs paradox in statistical mechanics is often taken to indicate that already in the classical domain particles should be treated as fundamentally indistinguishable. This paper shows, on the contrary, how one can recover the thermodynamical account of the entropy of mixing, while treating states that only differ by permutations of similar particles as distinct. By reference to the orthodox theory of thermodynamics, it is argued that entropy differences are only meaningful if they are related to reversible processes connecting the initial and final state. For mixing processes, this means that processes should be considered in which particle number is allowed to vary. Within the context of statistical mechanics, the Gibbsian grandcanonical ensemble is a suitable device for describing such processes. It is shown how the grandcanonical entropy relates in the appropriate way to changes of other thermodynamical quantities in reversible processes, and how the thermodynamical account of the entropy of mixing is recovered even when treating the particles as distinguishable.