Spring 2025

Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

Listed in: Physics and Astronomy, as PHYS-230


Ashley R. Carter (Section 01)


The basic laws of physics governing the behavior of microscopic particles are in certain respects simple. They give rise both to complex behavior of macroscopic aggregates of these particles, and more remarkably, to a new kind of simplicity. Thermodynamics focuses on the simplicity at the macroscopic level directly, and formulates its laws in terms of a few observable parameters like temperature and pressure. Statistical Mechanics, on the other hand, seeks to build a bridge between mechanics and thermodynamics, providing in the process, a basis for the latter, and pointing out the limits to its range of applicability. Statistical Mechanics also allows one to investigate, in principle, physical systems outside the range of validity of Thermodynamics. After an introduction to thermodynamic laws, we will consider a microscopic view of entropy, formulate the kinetic theory, and study several pertinent probability distributions including the classical Boltzmann distribution. Relying on a quantum picture of microscopic laws, we will study photon and phonon gases, chemical potential, classical and degenerate quantum ideal gases, and chemical and phase equilibria. Three class hours per week.

Requisite: PHYS 225 or CHEM 161/CHEM165 and PHYS 117/PHYS 124 and MATH 121. Recommended: MATH 211. Spring semester: Professor Carter. 

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: quantitative work, lab work and working in groups

Course Materials


Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024