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I think from the context of class, we are referring to an isothermal expansion of an ideal gas. This means that the gas is expanding reversibly and work is being done to move the piston and increase the volume. In this case, the work being done would be negative. However, in the isothermal reaction that we discuss, temperature of the system is also held constant, which means that any internal energy being lost through work being done is replaced through heat flowing into the system. In other words, as negative work is done to move the piston out, positive heat is flowing into the system, and as a result, deltaU = 0 because all the -w is countered by +q. This in effect, also means that deltaT is 0 since heat is flowing into the system to keep the system at constant T.
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