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

Fall 2013

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: Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:15-4:00 or by arrangement (email or phone).

Course Description: Physics 404 (formerly PHYS 414) is an introductory course on thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and a bit of kinetic theory. It is designed for physics majors but also suitable for advanced undergraduate students in astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, and space sciences. Unlike most upper-level courses for physics majors, PHYS 374 is not a prerequisite. 3 Credits (though many students think it should be worth 4 credits!).

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

Teaching Assistant/Grader: I-Lin Liu

Office: IPST Bldg., Room 1102; Phone: 301-405-4797

e-mail: cuteflouer610 at

Office hours: Available Thursdays and Fridays after 3:00pm; send her email to set up specific times

Text: Primary, required: Daniel V. Schroeder, Thermal Physics (Addison Wesley Longman, 2000) [0-201-38027-7], Here is the link to Schroeder's list of typos/errors, along with a downloaded pdf in case the link becomes inactive.

Secondary, recommended: 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 previous offerings of PHYS 404; there are many typos, so students are cautioned to fix up their books using the posted errata lists!! It is more advanced than Schroeder and contains lots of information with useful summaries, but has proved to terse and detailed for the course. It should be useful for students planning to continue studying physics in graduate school.

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

Schroeder, including flattering reviews, at

Other strongly recommended books:

Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik, Thermal and Statistical Physics , chaps. 1-7, version of Jan. 15, 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 (to be posted once protected website is established).

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

Daniel F. Styer, Statistical Mechanics (free online).

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

James P. Sethna, Entropy, Order Parameters, and Complexity (free online), more advanced with a novel and attractive viewpoint and interesting problems.

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

Books being placed on reserve at EPSL library:

Ralph Baierlein, Thermal physics QC311 .B293 1999

Stephen Blundell and Katherine M Blundell: Concepts in thermal physics QC254.2 .B58 2006

Claude Garrod, Statistical mechanics and thermodynamics QC174.8 .G37 1995

Mehran Kardar, Statistical physics of particles QC174.8 .K37 2007

Charles Kittel and Herbert Kroemer, Thermal physics QC311.5 .K52 1980

F Mandl, Statistical physics QC175 .M24 1971

F Reif, Fundamentals of statistical and thermal physics QC175 .R43

M D Sturge, Statistical and thermal physics : fundamentals and applications QC174.8 .S87 2003

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:

Final exam ~35%

Homework ~30%

Midterm test ~25%

Quizzes ~10%

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. The mid-term test will be during class time on October 29. The Official Examination Schedule on lists the final as taking place on Friday, Dec. 20, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m.

Class Schedule

Date Schroeder§ Topic Blundell^2 § Gould&Tob. §
Sept. 3 1.1-1.2 Temperature (T), ideal gas, 0th law 1 1,  2.4-2.5
Sept. 5 1.3-1.4,1.7 Equipartition,work,1st law, heat conduction 2 1,2.6-2.11
Sept. 10 1.5-1.6 Quasistatic processes, heat capacity C    
Sept. 12 1.6,2.1-2.3 Latent heat,  simple models,  probability 28.1 3.1-3.5(not3.4.2)
Sept. 17 2.4-2.5 Large systems, probability (continuous) 3.6-3.8
Sept. 19 2.6 Entropy; reversible vs. irreversible 12,14 2.12-2.19(not2.14)
Sept. 24 3.1-3.2 More on entropy, rel'n to T, C, etc. 4
Sept. 26 3.3 Paramagnetism, Curie law 17.3
Oct. 1 3.4 Pressure,  mechanical equilibrium
Oct. 3 3.5 (1.7), 4.1 Diffusive equilib. & chemical potential; Carnot cycle
Oct. 8 4.2-4.3 Refrigerators; efficiency; real engines (Otto, Diesel); quiz 13 2.14
Oct. 10 5.1,1.6 Free energies as available work; thermo identities; enthalpy 16
Oct. 15 5.2-5.3 Free energies as force toward equilib.
Oct. 17 5.3-5.4 Phase transitions of pure substances; van der Waals eqn & phase diagram & liquid-gas transition
Oct. 22 5.4-5.5(bits)

Mixtures,phase diagrams,solubility gaps

Oct. 24 6.1-6.2 Boltzmann factor, partition function Z 20
Oct. 29   Midterm  
Oct. 31 6.3-6.4 Paramagnetism, equipartition, Maxwell speed distrib. 19
Nov. 5 6.5-6.7 More on Z, quantum length, Z of gas 21
Nov. 7 7.1;7.2 Grand canonical ensemble & Gibbs factor; Bosons & fermions 22.3-22.4; 29,30.1
Nov. 12 7.3 Degenerate Fermi gas 30.2
Nov. 14 7.3 Fermi gas at "low" temperature
Nov. 19 7.4 Planck distrib., blackbody radiation, photon gas; quiz 30.3
Nov. 21 7.5 Debye model of solids, compare phonons & photons 24
Nov. 26 7.6 Degenerate Bose gas 30.3
Nov. 28 Thanksgiving
Dec. 3 7.6 Bose-Einstein condensation 30.4
Dec. 5   Trapped atoms, superfluids; quiz
Dec. 10   SNOW DAY
Dec. 12 8.2 Ising model as interacting system; mean field thry; review
Dec. 20 Final exam, in normal classroom (1402), 1:30-3:30


Added information:

“If you are experiencing difficulties in keeping up with the academic demands of this course, contact the Learning Assistance Service, 2202 Shoemaker Building, 301-314-7693. Their educational counselors can help with time management, reading, math learning skills, note-taking and exam preparation skills. All their services are free to UMD students.” Note also that the UMD Counseling Center is one of the best in the USA.

Honor Code (added at the behest of the Student Honor Council):

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for you to be aware of the consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit .

To further exhibit your commitment to academic integrity, remember to sign the Honor Pledge on tests (but not homework): "I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination (assignment)."

Last updated Dec. 10, 2013