Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Thermal Physics
Academic Year
Semester 1
MA10020 or MT10020; PH14310; and successful completion of Part 1.
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 22 lectures and examples classes


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 2 Hours   Written Examination  70%
Semester Assessment Course Work: 2 Example Sheets.  30%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Written Examination  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • understand the principles of the zeroth, first, second and third laws of thermodynamics and apply the laws to solve associated problems.

* identify the principal thermodynamic steps in the operation of heat engines and calculate efficiencies.

* be familiar with the basic concepts of reversibility and entropy.

* explain the basic concepts of statistical mechanics and their applications to investigate properties of matter.


The module considers the laws of thermodynamics and associated thermodynamic properties and introduces the theories for real gases and phase transitions. It also presents the techniques of statistical mechanics for linking microscopic properties of matter with thermodynamic parameters. It covers core material in preparation for more advanced modules.

Brief description

Following a brief recap of some of the basic ideas of thermodynamics, including the zeroth and first laws of thermodynamics, this module presents the concept of entropy and its statistical significance, thermodynamic engines and refrigerators, the Carnot cycle and the second and third laws of thermodynamics. Thermodynamic potentials and the Maxwell relations are introduced, with real gases and phase transitions also considered. The concepts and techniques of statistical mechanics are introduced and are used to link the microscopic behaviour of matter with thermodynamic parameters.


1. Ideal gas, state variables, changes of state.
2. Thermal equilibrium, zeroth law of thermodynamics, temperature scales.
3. Work, Heat and Internal Energy, first law of thermodynamics.
4. Heat Capacity, Enthalpy.

1. Entropy and its statistical definition.
2. Reversible and irreversible processes.
3. Heat engines, refrigerators and heat pumps.
4. The second law of thermodynamics: Kelvin-Planck, Clausius statements.
5. Carnot cycle, thermodynamic temperature scale.
6. The third law of thermodynamics and absolute entropy.

1. Gibbs and Helmholtz free energies.
2. The Maxwell relations.
3. Phase equilibria.
4. Clausius-Claperyon relation.

1. The van der Waals equation of state, critical temperature, the Dieterici equation of state.
2. Virial expansion, Boyle temperature, condensation of gases.
3. Joule-Kelvin expansion.

1. Thermodynamic definition, phase rule, and mixing of real solutions.
2. Calculation of thermodynamic potentials and partition function.
3. Dynamics of phase transitions, fluctuations of density, nucleation and diffusion.

1. Basic ideas: Assembly. Macrostates and Microstates. Distinguishable and Indistinguishable identical particles. Quasi-independent. Distribution. Entropy and number of microstates.
2. Distinguishable particles: Distributions of a macrostate. Most probable distribution. Boltzmann distribution. Partition function. Partition function and thermodynamic functions.
3. Indistinguishable particles: Fermi-Dirac distribution function. Bose-Einstein distribution function. Dilute gas. Density of states. Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution function. Partition function for a Maxwell-Boltzmann gas. Partition function and thermodynamic functions. Maxwell-Boltzmann speed distribution. Introduction to: Fermi-Dirac gases, Fermi energy, Fermi temperature and Bose-Einstein condensation.

Reading List

General Text
C.B.P. Finn Thermal Physics Nelson-Thornes (previously published with Routledge) Primo search P.A. Tipler Physics for Scientists and Engineers W.H. Freeman 1999 Primo search
Recommended Text
P.W. Atkins Physical Chemistry Oxford Press Primo search Trevena, David Henry. (c2001 (2003 pri) Statistical mechanics :an introduction /D.H. Trevena. Horwood Pub. Primo search
Supplementary Text
Guenault, A. M. (1995 (various p) Statistical physics /Tony Guenault. 2nd ed. Chapman and Hall Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 5