Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Spring 2008

Course Title: Physics 404: Introduction to Statistical Thermodynamics

Instructor: Prof. Ted Einstein

Office: Physics Bldg., Room 2310; Phone: 301-405-6147

e-mail: einstein at

Office hours: 2:00-3:30 on Tuesdays, by arrangement (email or phone), and to be announced.

Course Description: Physics 404 (formerly PHYS 414) is an introductory course on thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and kinetic theory. It is designed for physics majors but also suitable for advanced undergraduate students in astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering and space sciences. 3 Credits

Time & Place: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30-1:50 p.m., room 1402, Physics Bldg.

Teaching Assistant/Grader: Yigit Subasi

Office: Physics Bldg., Room 3101; Phone: 301-405-6194

e-mail: ysubasi at

Office hours: 2:00-4:00 on Thursdays

Text: Primary: S.G. & K.M. Blundell, Concepts in Thermal Physics (Oxford U. Press, 2006, reprinted 2007 with corrections, and more posted online for the text) and for the problems) [978-0-19-856770-7], supplemented by Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik, Thermal and Statistical Physics, chaps. 1-7, From this link, you can view the chapters one by one. I have posted all 7 chapters as a single pdf file and as a cropped version, suitable for 2pps printing if desired.

Other strongly recommended books:

Daniel V. Schroeder, Thermal Physics (Addison Wesley Longman, 2000) [0-201-38027-7], text used in Spring 2007

Ralph Baierlein, Thermal Physics, (Cambridge University Press, 2000, pb) [0 -521-65838-1]

C. Kittel and H. Kroemer, Thermal Physics, 2nd Edition (Freeman, San Francisco, 1980) [0-7167-1088-9], unpopular but used as course text by many other teachers of this course

M. D. Sturge, Statistical and Thermal Physics (A K Peters, 2003) [156881196-1], lots of typos

Review of Blundell^2 in Physics Today

Reviews of Schroeder, Baierlein, and Reichl (advanced text) in Am. J. Phys. 1999 (accessible from sites)

Schroeder, including flattering reviews, at

There are many other texts. You should browse around and find the ones that appeal to you. Here are comments by Cowley at Rutgers, by Styer at Oberlin . You should also make regular use of the web resources on the weblist class site.

A new text, not on these lists, is D. Yoshioka, Statistical Physics: An Introduction (Springer, 2005); it is somewhat more advanced but provides a succinct discussion with more depth than the course text.

Homework: There will be homework assignments about weekly (every 2-3 lectures). They are a very important part of the course; to master the material generally requires doing problems conscientiously. But homework is not a take-home test: Students are encouraged to discuss the problems with each other after thinking about them alone, and to explore the physics behind the problems. However, each student should write answers individually and be thoroughly in command of the underlying physics. Solutions will be posted on the next lecture day ("deadline date") after the due date. Thereafter, no late problem sets can be accepted for credit.

Grading: The course grade will be based primarily on total points, with the following weighting:

2 midterm tests ~20-23% each

Quizzes ~0-10%

Final exam ~30-34%

Homework ~20-23%

The only acceptable excuses for missing a test are those established by the university: religious holiday [which I have avoided, to the best of my knowledge], illness, or an official university event. You will need a written note on official stationery to establish your excuse. The mid-term tests will be during class time on March 11 and April 17. The Schedule of Classes lists the final as taking place on Tuesday, May 20, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. The unusually large size of the class may well necessate that tests be given in a room different from the classroom and will not allow for quizzes. Final grades will be based on the above weighting and on a second composite that greatly downweights the poorest (relative) performance on one of the above 4 components. If these distributions are cooperative, borders between grades will be set in gaps, so that a small change in points will not alter the letter grade received.


We will follow Blundell & Blundell (Blundell^2) but supplement from Gould and Tobochnik. You should read the listed sections from Blundell^2 before class to get the most out of the lectures. Read through all of the problems, in addition to the text. The assignments from Blundell^2 are mandatory. The readings from Gould & Tobochnik should increase your understanding of the material, but the presentation does not neatly map to that by Blundell^2 (though it maps more smoothly than to Schroeder, used last year). The following schedule should be viewed as very tentative, since I have not used Blundell^2 before.

DATE Blundell^2 Gould&Tobochnik TOPICS, KEYWORDS
Jan. 29 1 1.1-1.6 , 1.10 thermodynamic limit, ideal gas, combinatorics
Jan. 31 2,3 1.11, 2.10, 3.2-3.41 heat, heat capacity; probability
Feb. 5 4 column inaccurate temperature, equilibrium,ensembles,Boltzmann factor ,0th law
Feb. 7 5 (not 5.3) below,to be revised Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution
Feb. 12 6 4 various pressure: why, implications
Feb. 14 7.1, part of 7.2&8   flux,some on effusion, mean free path, collisions
  9, bits of 10   some on transport & thermal diffusion
Feb. 19 11 2.8 1st law, energy, functions of state
Feb. 21 12 2.11,2.14 reversibility, isothermal, adiabatic
Feb. 26 13   2nd law, heat engines, Carnot cycles
Feb. 28 14 2.15 entropy, irreversibility, free expansion, mixing
Mar. 4 14   entropy
Mar. 6     review
Mar. 11     Midterm 1
Mar. 13 15   information theory, Shannon entropy
Mar. 18, 20     Spring Break
Mar. 25 16 2.21-2.25 thermodynamic potentials, Maxwell relations
Mar. 27 17, 18 (parts) 2.20,5.1(part),5.2 surface tension, paramagnetism, 3rd law
Apr. 1 19 6.3, equipartition, Brownian motion
Apr. 3 20 4.6-4.8 partition function Z
Apr. 8 21 6.2,6.4 ideal gas
Apr. 10 22 2.18,2.21,4.12,6.2 chemical potential, grand partition function,chemical reactions
Apr. 15 23 6.7.2,6.9 photons, black-body radiation
Apr. 17     Midterm 2
Apr. 22 24 6.5,6.11 lattice vibrations & phonons: Einstein & Debye models
Apr. 24 26 6.6,6.7,6.10 real gases
Apr. 29 28 (done w/ Ising model) phase transitions
May 1 29,30 6.5,6.6,6.7,6.10 quantum distributions, degenerate & low-T Fermi gas, metals
May 6 30 6.12 quantum gases, Bose-Einstein condensation
May 8 30,28   remnants, etc.
May 13 tba   remnants, review
May 20, 1:30     Final exam

Last updated May 7, 2008