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Department of Physics
Undergraduate Students

415 Thermal Physics

This is an introduction to the physics of macroscopic collections of particles, classical and quantum.  This course differs from other courses in that the focus is not so much on the microscopic behavior of systems, but how that microscopic behavior manifests itself in the macroscopic phenomena typically observed.  A highlight of the course is understanding how the quantum nature of particles is often necessary for understanding the macroscopic behavior of collections of those particles.

The course begins with an introduction to probability theory.  That theory is then used to develop thermodynamics, describing work, heat, entropy, and related concepts.  The course then proceeds to statistical mechanics, which looks at thermodynamics from the point of view of the microscopic physics governing the particles that make up the thermodynamic system.  This leads to new insights and a deeper understanding.  Finally, the topic of quantum statistical mechanics is introduced and applied to simple quantum systems, such as metals and gases.

A typical list of topics covered is:

Probability and Statistics

Statistical description of systems of particles


Applications of thermodynamics

Statistical Mechanics

Applications of Statistical Mechanics

Equilibrium between phases

Quantum Statistics

Systems of Interacting Particles

This course assumes a good knowledge of multivariate calculus, which is used extensively in the course.  It relies on the material learned in mechanics, modern physics (205, 241, 244, or 249)  and, to a lesser extent, electricity and magnetism.  Course work typically consists of homework assignments, 2 exams, and a final.


Last updated: 2/18/2007
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