Hell: Exothermic or Endothermic?

This answer to a college chemistry exam was sent to me recently and restores my faith in the new generation of college students. The answer was purportedly in response to the bonus question on a University of Arizona chemistry midterm: “Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?”

Here is the student’s answer:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving, which is unlikely. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today.

Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, ‘It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,’ and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct….. …leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting ‘Oh my God.’

The student reportedly received a well-deserved A+

However, I still prefer the Simpson version of Hell . . .

UPDATE: The answer is reportedly not from a student, but it has been augmented, here.
Kudos: Phil Kroner

48 thoughts on “Hell: Exothermic or Endothermic?

  1. I favor explanation #1. “If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.”

    It explains global warming and puts the blame squarely on all the religions in the world. Works for me.

  2. …on a sadder note from the Hell zone…the gigantomundous oil spill in the Gulf is threatening Louisiana’s coastal wildlife preserve and will be set on fire later today in the hopes of mitigating the destruction. I am so not looking forward to the smoke and acrid smell…

  3. There is also a great physics piece from the early 70’s “Journal of irreproducible science” laying out the case that heaven is much hotter than hell.

    I don’t recall the details but its along the lines of “hell is molten sulfur and brimstone which produces some known temp and the bible claims heaven shines with the light of 7 suns so the temp can be computed”.

  4. Woosty’s still a Cat, I heard that too. One of the guest commentators on a TVNews show last night asked, in effect, how we can build a policy to do more off-shore drilling saying we have the technology and know-how when we admittedly don’t have the technology and know-how to even clean up this mess in a timely manner?

    This couldn’t have happened at a better time though, there’s still time for Obama to reverse his policy decision.

  5. I first heard this story (including the Theresa bit) over a decade ago – along with the story about the philosophy final where the only question was ‘Why?’ and the only two students who got an A answered ‘Why not?’ and ‘Because’.


    I believe that you are referring to ‘The Journal of Irreproducible Results’ which is my favorite (un)scientific journal. I vaguely recall the article you’re talking about, but couldn’t find it in either of my collections. On the metaphysical front, I like ‘The learning of a simple maze habit by angels’. My goal as a scientist is to someday be published in this august journal…



    One of the things that I most like about President Obama is his careful consideration of the facts and consultation with experts before he makes a decision. I would be most disappointed if he does not at least reconsider the decision on offshore drilling in light of this disaster.

  6. Buddha,

    I once had a massive text file of ‘Mathematican, Physicist, Engineer’ jokes – if I can dig it up, I’ll send it to you – but here’s a taste:

    Several professors were asked to solve the following problem: “Prove that all odd integers are prime.”

    Mathematician: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 9 is not a prime – counter-example – claim is false.

    Physicist: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 9 is an experimental error, 11 is a prime …

    Engineer: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 9 is a prime, 11 is a prime …

    Computer Scientist: 3’s a prime, 5’s a prime, 7’s a prime … segmentation fault

    Lawyers: one is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, although there appears to be prima facie evidence that nine is not prime, there exists substantial precedent to indicate that nine should be considered prime. The following brief presents the case for nine’s primeness…

    Liberals: The fact that nine is not prime indicates a deprived cultural environment which can only be remedied by a federally funded cultural enrichment program.

    Computer programmers: one is prime, three is prime, five is prime, five is prime, five is prime, five is prime five is prime, five is prime, five is prime…


    Professor: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, and the rest are left as an exercise for the student.

    Linguist: 3 is an odd prime, 5 is an odd prime, 7 is an odd prime, 9 is a very odd prime,…

    Computer Scientist: 10 prime, 11 prime, 101 prime…

    Chemist: 1 prime, 3 prime, 5 prime… hey, let’s publish!

    New Yorker: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is… NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS!

    Programmer: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 will be fixed in the next release,…

    Salesperson: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 9 — let me make you a deal…

    Advertiser: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 11 is a prime,…

    Accountant: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime, deducting 10% tax and 5% other obligations.

    Statistician: Let’s try several randomly chosen numbers: 17 is a prime, 23 is a prime, 11 is a prime… Looks good to me.

    Psychologist: 3 is a prime, 5 is a prime, 7 is a prime, 9 is a prime but tries to suppress it…

    More can be found at:


    I particularly like the ‘Metajoke’…

  7. i hate to undermine prof turley’s faith in the current college student, but im going to have to do so. that question and answer has been floating around the ‘net since hector was a pup. (for you all in rio linda, that means it is a set up).

    i think i even heard it on the “car talk” radio show a while back…

  8. The Professor covered his backside by using the word “purportedly” before repeating the story.

  9. Elaine,

    A poem for you:

    (12 + 144 + 20 + (3 * 4^(1/2))) / 7) + (5 * 11) = 9^2 + 0

    A Dozen, a Gross and a Score,
    plus three times the square root of four,
    divided by seven,
    plus five times eleven,
    equals nine squared and not a bit more.

    (I didn’t write it, but I thought that you would appreciate it…)😉

  10. Slartibartfast–

    Thanks. I love limericks!

    Here are a few more for you. They aren’t original.

    There was a young woman named Bright
    Whose speed was far faster than light.
    She set out one day
    In a relative way,
    And returned on the previous night.

    A tutor who tooted a flute,
    Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
    Said the two to the tutor,
    “Is it harder to toot, or
    To tutor two tooters to toot?”

    There once was a lady from Ryde
    Who ate some green apples and died.
    The apples fermented
    Inside the lamented
    And made cider inside her insides.

    There was an old man from Nantucket
    Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
    But his daughter named Nan
    Ran away with a man…
    And as fot the bucket? Nantucket!

    There once was a couple named Kelly
    Who went through life belly to belly
    Because in their haste
    They used library paste
    Instead of petroleum jelly.


  11. Great joke (and site link) and limericks, thanks Slartibartfast and Elaine for starting my morning off on a humorous note.

  12. Mespo,

    Per Wikipedia:

    Adiabatic heating or cooling of a gas results from pressure change. Work is done on or by the gas, but there is no heat transfer with the environment. Heat can be supplied to the gas by friction however. If an adiabatic process is frictionless too, the process is reversible and can be called isentropic.

    This discounts the transfer of souls into hell (presumably there is no transfer OUT of hell) which, in my mind, makes the professor’s answer better.


    You’re welcome.

    Correction: In my first post on this thread I said I had seen this before, but I had jumped to that conclusion before reading thoroughly – the version I saw years ago said that hell was exothermic (the author had NOT slept with Teresa).

  13. @Elaine M.- I appreciate Rowan Atkinson’s bit, but I think hell would be more like Sartre’s short story, “No Exit,” where people of entirely different vices get on each others nerves for eternity. —-Sort of like my job. ;->

  14. I’d argue that it had to be isothermic, otherwise some clever engineering might use the heat difference to cool another part of it down by making some type of engine, and we all know hell can’t be cold.

  15. Another engineer….

    I’m told all the screws in Hell are straight head and all the screwdrivers Philips head.

    It is supposed to be Hell after all. Or in the words of Gary Larson, “Welcome to Heaven. Here’s your harp./Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.”

  16. Boyles’ law only applies at constant temperature. A ‘location’ can not be endothermic or exothermic, only a ‘process’ can be that. Conclusion: nor the student nor the professor knows jack shit about chemistry. Therefore this story is a hoax and thus not funny and certainly not brilliant.

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  21. I swear some people are so “smart” they are dumb. This student probably received an A because it was cleaver. People just need to take a joke. I swear nothing ticks me off more than people who have to act smart.

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