Thermal and Statistical Physics (3)

UM-StL Physics 341 - Fall '98

Official BoilerPlate: Introduction to statistical mechanics, laws of thermodynamics, kinetic theory. (Excuse me, but there is a lot more cool stuff going on with this course than you might even imagine from this description! /pf)

What's New?

This is an exciting time in statistical physics because of developments this half-century in numerous fields (among them information theory and complex systems), and in the discovery of new paths to "simpler, deeper, and more widely applicable" understanding that such paradigm changes offer. Some implications for the introductory physics curriculum are mentioned briefly in the web-outline for a talk I gave, primarily on curriculum content improvements, this summer at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in Nebraska. I have also been asked to work on optional sections for the new edition of a major calculus-based physics text, so that an opportunity to "get your two bits" in on that process may be available as well!

This semester, we will be working from an authorized copy (provided to you by the department) of a promising new book by Dan Schroeder (Weber University in Ogden Utah, to be published by Addison-Wesley sometime in 1999) called "An Introduction to Thermal Physics".

The book by Garrod (half of which is worked problems) listed below and in stock at the bookstore will be used as a reference.

This course also now has a university-hosted web-wizard page and discussion server. The login ID and password for the latter are both [Physcs308.E01], at least for the time being...

Is it possible to describe recent insights underlying statistical physics simply? Send your thoughts on one attempt at this to

Questions this course might help you answer...

  • How many "ways to wiggle" per molecule does water evidence at room temperature?
  • Where might one observe the "herd-behavior" of bosons sharing a single ground state?
  • In what way do plants act as heat engines, and how efficient are they in practice?
  • What is the equation of state for a gas containing only one atom?
  • What keeps small white dwarves from shrinking past a certain point?
  • Which expansion requires more energy: adiabatic, isothermal, or isobaric?
  • How can spin-temperatures approach absolute zero from the negative direction?
  • How to get mass action, equipartition, & the equation of state from a single function!
  • Why and how might one convert between Kelvins, and eV/nat of uncertainty?
  • How an invention might increase the winter heat from a natural gas flame 8-fold?
  • What's the heat capacity of iron, in bits of uncertainty per two-fold increase in energy?
  • How can Lagrange multipliers help you consider whatever you know and don't know?
  • Why do the "several electron-volt" electrons in metals really not burn your fingers?!
  • As an information engine, what is the upper limit on your productivity in bytes/day?
  • How might statistical inference (and entropy) apply elsewhere, to images for example?

    Other resources of possible interest:

  • Notes for Dan on solving problems with MathCad.
  • University of California at Irvine, thermal physics applets!
  • U of I Physics Heat Engines Lecture.
  • Tom Schneider's page on Information Theory and Molecular Machines.
  • Browser-interactive solver for constant acceleration problems.
  • A question involving relativistic acceleration which contains what you need to solve it.
  • Try focussing a high-res electron microscope image on-line!
  • Does making a hotdog require 50 nanoseconds or more of life's power stream?
  • Is statistical physics a dead subject, or is there another paradigm change afoot?
  • In preparation: assignment list, example tests, course calendar, homework/exam solutions...
  • What other resources might help you? E-mail suggestions to
  • At UM-StLouis see also: a1toc, cme, i-fzx, phys&astr, programs, stei-lab, & wuzzlers.
  • Some current and previous courses: p111, p112, p231, p341, p400.
  • Cite/Link:
  • This release dated 15 Sep 1996 (Copyright by Phil Fraundorf 1988-1996)

    Assumed Background:


  • Math 180: Analytic Geometry and Calculus III (5)
  • Physics 231: Introduction to Modern Physics (3)


    Prof: Phil Fraundorf 516-5933; Benton Hall 421 (office)
    Office Hours: after class and by appointment
    Text: An Introduction to Thermal Physics by Schroeder (Addison-Wesley, 1999, provided by department) and Statistical Mechanics & Thermodynamics by Garrod (Oxford, 1995) for reference
    Lectures: Ref#:33345, 06:55PM-08:45pm MW, B443 Section:E01

    Approximate Distribution for Grade:

  • (1) Collected HomeWork / Quizzes - 20%
  • (3) Three 1-Hour Exams - 50%
  • (3) Comprehensive Final Exam - 30%

    Some Suggested Supplementary Reading

    on subjects considered in this course...

  • Keith Stowe, Intro to Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics (Wiley, 1984).
  • Kittel & Kroemer, Thermal Physics (WH Freeman, 1980).
  • George Arfken, Mathematical Methods for Physicists (Academic Press, 1970 & later)

    on stuff of more general interest...

  • Galileo Galilei - Dialog Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632, translated by Stillman Drake, UC Press, 1962)
  • Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd edition (U. of Chicago Press, Chicago IL, 1970)
  • Jearl Walker - The Flying Circus of Physics (Wiley 1977)
  • Joel A. Barker, The Business of Paradigms (ILI Press, Lake Elmo MN, 1985)
  • R. P. Feynman - "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (Bantam 1986)
  • K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation (Anchor Doubleday, New York NY, 1986)
  • Stephen W. Hawking - A Brief History of Time