[web] [lect]

Thermodynamics is a subject at the intersection of physics, chemistry, engineering and information technology, and that is reflected in the content in this lecture. Building on the introductory coverage of thermal physics in the Classical Physics module in Year 1, we will discuss the laws of thermodynamics and consider the irreversibility of processes and introduce entropy as a measure of it. The implications of this for heat engines (and, by extension, other engineering processes) will be discussed as well as how irreversibility determines phase equilibria via concepts such as free energy. Finally, statistical mechanics is invoked to explain the behaviour of different types of ensembles of particles, leading to distribution functions needed in other areas of physics such as Condensed Matter or Atomic and Molecular Physics, which are covered in a number of Year 3 modules.


  1. What is Thermodynamics?
  2. Heat and the Zeroth Law
  3. Work and the First Law
  4. Heat engines and the Second Law
  5. Entropy and reversibility
  6. Phase equilibria
  7. Van-der-Waals gas
  8. Boltzmann distribution
  9. Quantum statistics
  10. Ensemble statistics


There will be two problem sheets focussing on classical and statistical thermodynamics, respectively. In addition, there will be weekly revision quiz questions: on Blackboard
(Aber only), for which some credit will be given towards the problem sheets.

Further reading

The main textbook is CBP Finn's
Thermal Physics
. There are a number of copies of different vintage in the library, any of which will do nicely. This covers everything contained in the lecture and some additional material at the boundaries. [Primo]

Peter W Atkins's
Physical Chemistry
is a general physical chemistry book and covers most of our material in its thermodynamics chapters, although examples are typically drawn from chemical contexts. The book includes a large number of self test exercises, and a full solution manual is also available in the library. [Primo]

To get started, let's define the field of Thermodynamics and highlight some important topics within it.