Notes, Assignments, tutorials and past exams.
- Level 2 Physics Course
- UOC 3, HPW 2
every year, Session 2
Lecturer: Professor Paul Curmi
Lecture Times: Monday 9-10 (Physics Lecture Theatre, OMB), Thursday 2-3 (Rm 112, Old Main Building)
Consultation times: Monday 10-11, Thursday 3-4 (Rm 130, Old Main Building)
Syllabus: Laws of thermodynamics, kinetic theory, microscopic processes,
entropy, solid-state defects, Helmholtz and Gibbs' functions,
Maxwell's relations, phase diagrams, chemical and electrochemical
or PHYS1022 or PHYS1111 or PHYS1221 or PHYS1231 or PHYS1241,
MATH1021 or MATH1131 or MATH1141 or MATH1031; Excluded: PHYS2011.
Goals: Thermodynamics deals with energy, heat and
work, and is essential to understanding the principles behind
engines, refrigerators, and even life itself. This course
aims to provide students with an introduction to thermodynamics.
The course begins by considering kinetic theory and exploring
how the various thermodynamic quantities, such as pressure,
internal energy and temperature, and behaviours such as diffusion
emerge from a simple consideration of a gas obeying basic
classical physics. We then consider work and heat, looking
at topics such as adiabatic processes, phase transitions,
Joule-Thompson expansion and heat transfer. Based on these
concepts, we will discuss the 1st law of thermodynamics, heat
engines and their efficiency, and then Carnot’s work
to derive the maximum possibly efficiency of heat engines.
We will then look at how this leads to the concept of entropy
and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, arguably one of the most
debated laws of physics. To conclude, we will look at some
of the ramifications of the 2nd law including concepts such
as reversibility and the arrow of time, Maxwell’s demon
and finally, Boltzmann’s entropy, which then leads directly
into the PHYS3020 Statistical Physics course.
Students should develop the ability to:
the key concepts of thermal physics and their consequences,
in particular kinetic theory and the 1st and 2nd laws of
the key concepts of thermal physics to a variety of thermodynamic
systems such as engines, refrigerators and the atmosphere.
Thermal Physics is important?
A knowledge of thermal physics –the physics of energy,
heat, work and entropy – is essential to understanding
the operating principles of a variety of useful technologies
ranging from car engines and power stations to fridges and
cooling elements. The concepts of entropy and reversibility
are important to understanding chemical processes, in particular,
which ones occur spontaneously and which ones don’t,
how fast reactions proceed, and whether they consume or produce
energy. Thermal physics is also important to the working of
many biological systems such as molecular motors and cells,
and even spreads as far as information technology, where the
entropy of information is a key concept.
Thermal physics is also central to our understanding of physics
itself. Quantum mechanics evolved from the failure of classical
physics to explain the specific heat of gases and the spectra
of a hot object (blackbody radiation). The 2nd law of thermodynamics
is of great significance to understanding why most processes
only go one way (e.g., why humpty dumpty can spontaneously
fall off a wall and break, but doesn’t spontaneously
reassemble and appear back on the wall), thereby providing
us with the so-called ‘arrow of time’.
provides an important foundation for PHYS3020 Statistical
Physics and PHYS3410 Biophysics 2.
to Succeed – Strategies for Learning
Thermal physics can be a difficult subject because it has
developed from studies in a wide range of fields including
physics, chemistry, biology and many branches of engineering,
mechanical and chemical in particular. These various influences
have lead to a large number of slightly differing variables,
definitions, and viewpoints that have evolved to ‘tune’
thermodynamics to specific applications. The key to this subject
is to look for the central physical concepts, and how to apply
them, rather than focus on the specific mathematical details,
which tend to differ from one author’s field/viewpoint
to another. This is particularly important to remember as
you read amongst the various resources for the course.
tips for successful learning include:
not hesitate to ask questions during lectures. There is
no such thing as a silly or wrong question. While your questions
are helpful for you, they are also helpful for other students
(you’ll often find other students in your class who
have the same question but are too shy to ask), and they
are helpful for the lecturer because they allow him/her
to gauge whether they are getting the material across effectively
time should be spent ‘thinking’ about the subject,
this may seem kind of obvious, but it goes much deeper than
simply reviewing notes, reading resources or trying to memorize
the various equations. You should try to spend some time
after each lecture actively thinking about what you have
learned. An ideal way to do this is to ask yourself questions
such as “How does this fit into my existing knowledge
of physics and my experience of how the world works?”,
“Does this make sense?”, “How would I
explain this to someone else?”, “Can I find
some logical inconsistency or conflict that emerges from
how I currently understand what I’ve learned?”
(in which case you should aim to figure out and resolve
this conflict), “What parts of what I’ve learned
do I not fully understand?”, etc. In doing this, you
may want to review your notes or books, but you should not
see this as normal note-review or study (i.e. you shouldn’t
do this by sitting there staring at your notes), to give
an analogy, it should be more like being a Zen monk contemplating
the sound of one hand clapping.
- Students should also try to do as many problems as possible
– just doing the assignments is usually not enough.
A variety of suggested tutorial problems will be given during
the course, and some will be discussed during lectures.
However, as individual students, you can help yourself by
seeking out problems that make you confront aspects of the
course that you least understand, just doing the easy questions
will not help you very much. Forming small study groups
to discuss the course material and work together on tutorial
problems is highly encouraged, this approach will help you
learn better by teaching each other (n.b. care should be
taken that this doesn’t cross over to plagiarism for
assignments – make sure you know the rules). Plagiarism
should work throughout the course on compiling your own
concise set of revision notes. A good way to do this is
to write a brief review after each lecture. You should also
add lessons learned in doing tutorial questions and from
thinking about the lectures to these revision notes.
remember, don’t focus on just memorising all the equations
(a formula sheet will be attached to the exam paper) –
concentrate on the understanding physics instead, and the
mathematical aspects should then follow naturally.
assignments worth 10% each (20% total)
hour midsession exam 20%
hour written final examination 60%
- S.J. Blundell and K.M. Blundell, "Concepts in thermal physics" (Oxford)
Schroeder, “An Introduction to Thermal Physics”
(Addison-Wesley) – A good, well-explained book on
some key topics in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
and Salinger, “Thermodynamics, Kinetic Theory and
Statistical Thermodynamics” – Considered a standard
text by many, but it is probably the most technical of the
books listed here and can sometimes be difficult to follow.
A good reference and worthwhile reading for more mathematically
(n.b., Please consider these books to be somewhat optional.
This course will follow none of the listed books very closely,
and none of the books will cover everything in the course
in a single volume).
It is always a good idea to consult more than one book when
studying a course as you may find a book whose particular
style is more suited to yours than the prescribed textbook.
You will also benefit from studying different approaches to
the course material and related problems; here is a short
list of books that may be useful:
“An Introduction to Thermal Physics” (Cambridge
Univ. Press) – A short but thorough text on thermodynamics
with many good problems.
“Understanding Thermodynamics” (McGraw Hill) –
A short, old but very well explained book that contains some
excellent insight into some of the more difficult concepts
Leighton and Sands, “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”
Vol. 1 (Addison Wesley) – This is an excellent text
that contains many insightful explanations of a wide range
of undergraduate physics topics, not just thermodynamics.
and Dittman, “Heat and Thermodynamics” (McGraw-Hill)
– A far more technical thermodynamics text but very
Borgnakke and Van Wylen, “Fundamentals of Thermodynamics”
6th Ed (Wiley) – A very good general textbook with a
bit more mathematics than the Feynman lectures or Van Ness,
and a lot of very good problems and worked examples.
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