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We're learning about chemical reactions in class and we recently did an experiment where we combined copper and nitric acid. Both were at relatively room temperature and when they were combined the temperature rose very quickly. Isn't this contradicting the first law of thermodynamics? If the thermal energy is neither created nor destroyed but only transferred than where did all that extra thermal energy come from? please help!

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome to chemistry.stackexchange.com. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Visit the help center to learn more about how it works. I think, your question may answer itself in a few class days, if you don’t mind me saying. $\endgroup$ – Jan Dec 4 '15 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Thermal energy is constantly created and destroyed (or rather, converted to and from other kinds of energy) in immense amounts. Think of electric heater of any sort, for example. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Dec 4 '15 at 18:16
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The energy was in the chemicals, in the form of bonds. Energy is liberated when there is bond formation. As the reaction between $\ce{Cu}$ and $\ce{HNO3}$ is feasible at room temperature so it happened.

And another thing, room temperature is a nice temperature for that reaction because first we need to break bonds of $\ce{HNO3}$ to make new bond, which is easily done at this temperature.

Now coming to your question, the answer is 'no'. The first law is still safe. You know it wrong. The truth is (from wikipedia) : "the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed".

Give special attention to the word 'total energy', you said the 'thermal energy' in your question. And the total energy (atleast in this case) is conserved in the form of summation of thermal energy and bond energy.

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