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

Spring 2009

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: 2:00-2:30 & 3:25-3:55 on Tuesdays, 3:25-3:55 on Fridays, and by arrangement (email or phone) [updated Feb. 17]

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 4207; Phone: 301-405-6194

e-mail: ysubasi at

Office hours: Mondays, 11:00-11:45 and 3:15-4:00, tentatively. These hours will be reduced. Go see the TA at the time convenient to you to be sure that that time slot is maintained! [updated Feb. 27]

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] plus many spotted during PHYS 404 in Spring 2008 and 2009, and in a similar class at Washington U. ; there are many typos, so students are cautioned to fix up their books using the posted errata lists!! This book will be supplemented by the online text by Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik, Thermal and Statistical Physics, chaps. 1-7, version downloaded Feb. 3, 2009, 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.

Note also Richard Kirkpatrick, Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics: An Intermediate-Level Course

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]

Don S. Lemons, Mere Thermodynamics (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, pb)[0-8018-9015-2]

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 and by 3 readers on

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, occasionally 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. Due to a shortage of TA support, it is likely that only a fraction of the assigned problems will be marked by the TA. Students are responsible for comparing their answers with the posted solutions and mastering the correct way to do the problems, particularly for unmarked questions. Solutions will also be posted for problems that were assigned last year but not this year, for your information. For your benefit, your name should be on each sheet of paper submitted as part of homework, and multiple sheets should be stapled together!

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

2 midterm tests ~22% each

Quizzes ~7%

Final exam ~30%

Homework ~19%

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 10 and April 14. These dates have been picked to not be adjacent to midterm tests in Physics 402. The Schedule of Classes lists the final as taking place on Tuesday, May 19, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. 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 and other recommended texts. In response to student comments last year, we will omit some material in Blundell^2 and not follow their ordering as scrupulously. 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 two years ago). The following schedule should be viewed as tentative, since I am not sure how the reordering of Blundell^2 and dealing with the missed first day of class will work.

DATE Blundell^2 Gould&Tobochnik TOPICS, KEYWORDS
Jan. 27 1   NO CLASS--SNOW
Jan. 29 1 1.1-1.6 , 1.10 thermodynamic limit, ideal gas, combinatorics
Feb. 3 2,4.1-4.2,3 1.11, 2.10, 3.2-3.41 heat, heat capacity; temperature, equilibrium;probability
Feb. 5 4.3-4.7 2.1-2.5, 2.13

ensembles,Boltzmann factor,0th law

Feb. 10 11 2.8

1st law, energy, functions of state

Feb. 12 12 2.11,2.14

reversibility, isothermal, adiabatic

Feb. 17 13 2.12,2.14 2nd law, heat engines, Carnot cycles
Feb. 19 14 2.15 entropy, irreversibility, free expansion, mixing
Feb. 24 14 2.25 entropy
Feb. 26 16 2.21-2.24 thermodynamic potentials, Maxwell relations
Mar. 3 17, 18 (parts) 2.20,5.1(part),5.2 elastic rod, [surface tension,] paramagnetism, 3rd law
Mar. 5 5 6.4,6.5 Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution of speeds
Mar. 10     Midterm 1
Mar. 12 6   pressure--kinetic viewpoint
Mar. 17, 19     Spring Break
Mar. 24 8   mean free path, collisions
Mar. 26 19 6.3 equipartition, Brownian motion
Mar. 31 20 4.6-4.8 partition function Z
Apr. 2 21 6.2,6.4 ideal gas
Apr. 7 22 2.18,2.21,4.12,6.2 chemical potential
Apr. 9 22 7.1 review, chemical potential, grand partition function
Apr. 14     Midterm 2
Apr. 16 22, 23 7.5,6.7.2,6.9 chemical reactions; photons, black-body radiation
Apr. 21 24 6.5,6.11 lattice vibrations & phonons: Einstein & Debye models
Apr. 23 26 6.6,6.7,6.10 real gases
Apr. 28 28 (done w/ Ising model) phase transitions
Apr. 30 29,30 6.5,6.6,6.7,6.10 quantum distributions, degenerate & low-T Fermi gas, metals
May 5 30 6.12 quantum gases, Bose-Einstein condensation
May 7 30,28   remnants, etc.
May 12 tba   remnants, review
May 19, 1:30     Final exam

Last updated March 3, 2009

information theory, Shannon entropy??