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The example of a heat engine illustrates one of the many ways in which the second law of thermodynamics can be applied. One way to generalize the example is to consider the heat engine and its heat reservoir as parts of an isolated (or closed) system—i.e., one that does not exchange heat or work with its surroundings. For example, the heat engine and reservoir could be encased in a rigid container with insulating walls. In this case the second law of thermodynamics (in the simplified form presented here) says that no matter what process takes place inside the container, its entropy must increase or remain the same in the limit of a reversible process. Similarly, if the universe is an isolated system, then its entropy too must increase with time. Indeed, the implication is that the universe must ultimately suffer a “heat death” as its entropy progressively increases toward a maximum value and all parts come into thermal equilibrium at a uniform temperature. After that point, no further changes involving the conversion of heat into useful work would be possible. In general, the equilibrium state for an isolated system is precisely that state of maximum entropy. (This is equivalent to an alternate definition for the term *entropy* as a measure of the disorder of a system, such that a completely random dispersion of elements corresponds to maximum entropy, or minimum information. *See *information theory: Entropy.)

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