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internal energy

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Symbol U. The total of the kinetic energies of the atoms and molecules of which a system consists and the potential energies associated with their mutual interactions. It does not include the kinetic and potential energies of the system as a whole nor their nuclear energies or other intra-atomic energies. The value of the absolute internal energy of a system in any particular state cannot be measured; the significant quantity is the change in internal energy, ΔU. For a closed system (i.e. one that is not being replenished from outside its boundaries) the change in internal energy is equal to the heat absorbed by the system (Q) from its surroundings, less the work done (W) by the system on its surroundings, i.e. ΔU=QW. See also energy; thermodynamics.

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