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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.

Contents   [subject index]

  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. Mixtures - the chemical potential
  9. Boltzmann distribution
  10. Quantum statistics
  11. 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). Each of the problem sheets and the combined quizzes are worth 10% of the module mark, with the remaining 70% allocated to the final exam.

Further reading

The textbook Thermal and Statistical Physics by RB Singh is available online to AU students via institutional subscription. It covers the vast majority of the material of this lecture and goes somewhat beyond it, particularly on Statistical Thermodynamics. It has useful worked examples and additional exercises at the end of each chapter.

Alternatively, CBP Finn's Thermal Physics is a concise textbook for the Classical Thermodynamics part of this lecture. There are a number of print copies of different vintage in the library, any of which will do nicely. This covers everything contained in the classical thermodynamics part of the lecture and some additional material at the boundaries. However, statistical thermodynamics is not included in this text. [Primo]

The recommended print textbook for the section on statistical thermodynamics is Statistical Mechanics - an introduction by erstwhile Head of Physics at Aberystwyth, David H Trevena. This covers all of the statistical thermodynamics covered in this lecture including the underlying maths, and provides some additional outlook towards the implications for condensed phases. It also contains some useful worked examples. [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]

Finally, for those who wish to delve a little deeper into the mathematical background of statistical thermodynamics, the book Statistical Mechanics made Simple by Daniel C Mattis and Robert H Swendsen might be an interesting read. Despite the title, this is a fairly advanced text which goes substantially beyond the immediate lecture content both in terms of mathematical rigour and range of applications. [Primo]


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