Steam turbine
A steam turbine is a mechanical device that extracts thermal energy
Thermal energy
Thermal energy is the part of the total internal energy of a thermodynamic system or sample of matter that results in the system's temperature....

 from pressurized steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

, and converts it into rotary motion. Its modern manifestation was invented by Sir Charles Parsons
Charles Algernon Parsons
Sir Charles Algernon Parsons OM KCB FRS was an Anglo-Irish engineer, best known for his invention of the steam turbine. He worked as an engineer on dynamo and turbine design, and power generation, with great influence on the naval and electrical engineering fields...

 in 1884.

It has almost completely replaced the reciprocating
Reciprocating engine
A reciprocating engine, also often known as a piston engine, is a heat engine that uses one or more reciprocating pistons to convert pressure into a rotating motion. This article describes the common features of all types...

 piston steam engine
Steam engine
A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid.Steam engines are external combustion engines, where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. Non-combustion heat sources such as solar power, nuclear power or geothermal energy may be...

 primarily because of its greater thermal efficiency and higher power-to-weight ratio
Power-to-weight ratio
Power-to-weight ratio is a calculation commonly applied to engines and mobile power sources to enable the comparison of one unit or design to another. Power-to-weight ratio is a measurement of actual performance of any engine or power sources...

. Because the turbine generates rotary motion, it is particularly suited to be used to drive an electrical generator – about 90% of all electricity generation in the United States is by use of steam turbines. The steam turbine is a form of heat engine
Heat engine
In thermodynamics, a heat engine is a system that performs the conversion of heat or thermal energy to mechanical work. It does this by bringing a working substance from a high temperature state to a lower temperature state. A heat "source" generates thermal energy that brings the working substance...

 that derives much of its improvement in thermodynamic efficiency through the use of multiple stages in the expansion of the steam, which results in a closer approach to the ideal reversible process
Reversible process (thermodynamics)
In thermodynamics, a reversible process, or reversible cycle if the process is cyclic, is a process that can be "reversed" by means of infinitesimal changes in some property of the system without loss or dissipation of energy. Due to these infinitesimal changes, the system is in thermodynamic...

The first device that may be classified as a reaction steam turbine was little more than a toy, the classic Aeolipile
An aeolipile , also known as a Hero engine, is a rocket style jet engine which spins when heated. In the 1st century AD, Hero of Alexandria described the device, and many sources give him the credit for its invention.The aeolipile Hero described is considered to be the first recorded steam engine...

, described in the 1st century by Greek
Greek mathematics
Greek mathematics, as that term is used in this article, is the mathematics written in Greek, developed from the 7th century BC to the 4th century AD around the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Greek mathematicians lived in cities spread over the entire Eastern Mediterranean, from Italy to...

 mathematician Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria
Hero of Alexandria was an ancient Greek mathematician and engineerEnc. Britannica 2007, "Heron of Alexandria" who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt...

 in Roman Egypt.