Bucknell PHYS 317 Course Description

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If you were to describe the air in the room, you would speak of its temperature, humidity, and pressure. But these quantities have no meaning for a single molecule or atom (which is why you didn't see temperature mentioned in quantum mechanics). We can only understand temperature, etc. as statistical quantities emerging from some 1023 atoms or molecules acting together - this is the subject of thermodynamics and its more detailed sibling, statistical mechanics. Since we live in the macroscopic world, most of our everyday experiences involve thermodynamics, making this an important, practical branch of physics.

And it's not just practical - it's also deep. What is the real reason hotter objects give up energy to cooler objects and never vice-versa? How can a bunch of water molecules at 1 atm pressure and 99oC decide, with only a slight increase in their temperature (whatever that is), that suddenly they want nothing to do with each other and would much rather be spread far apart as a gas. The interactions between the water molecules doesn't change with added heat, but their behavior as a group changes dramatically.

In this course we will cover the main topics of thermodynamics, encountering along the way a refined notion of temperature (it's not just for average kinetic energy any more), entropy and multiplicity, and free energies. With these tools we will explore a host of phenomena ranging from carbon monoxide poisoning to Bose-Einstein condensation to cosmic background radiation. The mathematics is mostly straightforward - integrals and derivatives and larger numbers than you've seen before, but not much more. The real challenge in thermodynamics is the concepts, and I encourage you to be aggressive trying to digest these as we go.

Course Structure:

The primary sources for this course will be the text and the lectures. I will give reading assignments which will include questions to be completed before each class and returned to me by email. During the lectures I will expand and clarify what was presented in the text, work through examples, and provide supplementary material. There will be ungraded in-class problems from time to time, since it is often helpful in understanding the concepts or methods being discussed.

Homework sets will be assigned weekly. These problems will take some time, and they count significantly towards your grade, so it is important that you establish early the habit of completing the assignments on time. You are encouraged to work together on homework problems, but you must write up your solutions individually. Late homework will be accepted with a reduction of 10% per day late up to a maximum 50% reduction.

There will be three in-class midterm exams and a take-home comprehensive final exam (due date to be announced). The homework assignments are the best possible preparation for the exams; if you have kept up with them and have revisited the problems that you had trouble with, then you can relax. You'll already have done your studying.


The course grade will be based on daily reading assignments (with questions), weekly homework assignments, three in-class exams, and a final, as follows:
Daily reading10%
Weekly homework25%
Exam 1 15%
Exam 2 15%
Exam 3 15%
Final Exam20%

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