Thermal Physics (PHYS*2240)

Code and section: PHYS*2240*01

Term: Fall 2019

Instructor: Stefan Kycia


Course Description

This course will introduce students to the basic ideas of thermal physics, including temperature, heat, work, thermal and diffusive equilibrium, and the Boltzmann distribution. The statistical basis for entropy and thermodynamics will be discussed. Applications of thermodynamics to both non-interacting and interacting systems will be presented.

Course Instruction


Stefan Kycia
Office:  MacN 324
(519) 824-4120 52540
Office Hours: Monday, 2:30 - 3:30 pm; Tuesday, 2:30 - 4:30 pm


Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
1:30 pm – 2:20 pm
MCKN Room 228

Learning Resources

Required text

  • An Introduction to Thermal Physics, by D. V. Schroeder (Addison Wesley Longman, 2000).

Other, optional, resources

  • Sears & Zemansky’s University Physics with Modern Physics 14th Edition, by Young and Freedman
  • Thermal Physics, by C. B. P. Finn
  • Equilibrium Thermodynamics by C. J. Adkins
  • Thermal physics online resources and simulations:

Student Evaluation

Assessment Weight
Assignments (between 5 t 6)  25%
Term Test 1 15%
Term Test 2 15%
Comp. Supp. 5%
Final Exam 40%

Assignment solutions that are not stapled together will receive a grade reduction of 5%. Assignments are due at the beginning of class; late assignments will receive a grade of zero.

Students may discuss problems amongst themselves but their written solutions must not be shared with anyone. This would be an example of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is the act of appropriating the “...composition of another,  or parts or passages of his [or her] writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind...” (Black’s Law Dictionary). A student found to have plagiarized will receive zero for the work concerned. Collaborators shown to be culpable will be subject to the same penalties.

Term Test dates

Friday, October 7, in class, 50 minutes (15% of final grade)
Friday, November 15, in class, 50 minutes (15% of final grade)

Final Exam date

Wednesday, December 11, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM, (40% of final grade) 
Room TBA. (A medical certificate is required if the exam is missed.)


Tentative Schedule

The following outline is my goal, but we will likely cover a little less.

  1. Introduction to Thermal Physics (1 Lecture) 
    a) Matter: Gas, Liquids and Solids
    b) Pressure in Liquids and Gas
  2. Equilibrium, state variables, and equations of state  (5 lectures) [1.1, 1.2]
    a) The microscopic world and the macroscopic world, temperature, thermal equilibrium
    b) Kelvin scale of temperature, equation of state, thermal expansion
    c) Mathematics of functions of multiple variables: differentials and partial derivatives
    d) Pressure; the isothermal atmosphere, Boltzmann factor
    e) Interacting gas: the van der Waals equation of state, isothermal compression (pp. 180 - 181)
  3. Conservation of energy: work and heat  (3 lectures) [1.4, 1.5]
    a) Mechanical work; quasi-static, isothermal expansion of an ideal gas
    b) What is heat? Internal energy, heat and temperature; heat capacity
    c) First Law: energy conservation
  4. Microstates and multiplicity  (8 lectures) [2.1 - 2.5]
    a) The big questions of thermodynamics
    b) Example systems: two-state system, Einstein solid, ideal gas
    c) Microvariables and microstates, counting microstates
    d) Constraints and the multiplicity function
    e) Interacting systems: two Einstein solids in thermal contact 
    f) Large systems, sharpness of the multiplicity function
    g) Multiplicity of the monatomic ideal gas
  5. Statistical description of entropy, temperature and thermal equilibrium (4 lectures) [2.6, 3.1, 3.2, 3.4 - 3.6]
    a) Fundamental assumption of statistical mechanics
    b) Second Law: Increase of entropy following release of internal constraints
    c) Temperature, thermal equilibrium, heat flow and entropy
    d) Mechanical and diffusive equilibrium, chemical potential
    e) Example: ideal gas
  6. Thermodynamic Potentials: the Structure of Thermodynamics (4 lectures) [5.1, 5.2]
    a) Structure of thermodynamics, roles of variables
    b) Constant temperature situations, Helmholtz free energy
    c) Other thermodynamic potentials: Gibbs, enthalpy
    d) Free energy as a force toward equilibrium, extremal principle
    e) Maxwell and TdS relations
  7. Applications: Mainly the Ideal Gas (7 lectures) [1.3, 1.5, 4.4, 2.6]
    a) Equipartition of energy
    b) Heat capacity at constant V and at constant P, relationship
    c) Ideal gas: adiabatic compression, free expansion (pp. 25 - 27, p. 78)
    d) Joule-Thompson process, gas liquefaction (pp. 139 - 143)
    e) Entropy of mixing and indistinguishability (pp. 79 - 81) 
    f) Reversible and irreversible processes (pp. 82 - 83)
  8. Phase transformations (3 lectures) [5.3]
    a) Behaviour near the transformation
    b) Analysis in terms of the Gibbs potential
    c) Slope of the coexistence curve in the P-T plane: Clausius-Clapeyron relation
    d) Liquid-gas coexistence in the van der Waals fluid

University Statements

Email Communication

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When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons please advise the course instructor (or designated person, such as a teaching assistant) in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. The grounds for Academic Consideration are detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Drop Date

Students will have until the last day of classes to drop courses without academic penalty. The deadline to drop two-semester courses will be the last day of classes in the second semester. This applies to all students (undergraduate, graduate and diploma) except for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Associate Diploma in Veterinary Technology (conventional and alternative delivery) students. The regulations and procedures for course registration are available in their respective Academic Calendars.

Copies of Out-of-class Assignments

Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all out-of-class assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.


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When accommodations are needed, the student is required to first register with Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Documentation to substantiate the existence of a disability is required; however, interim accommodations may be possible while that process is underway.

Accommodations are available for both permanent and temporary disabilities. It should be noted that common illnesses such as a cold or the flu do not constitute a disability.

Use of the SAS Exam Centre requires students to book their exams at least 7 days in advance and not later than the 40th Class Day.

For Guelph students, information can be found on the SAS website.

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The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity, and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community-faculty, staff, and students-to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff, and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that encourages academic integrity. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.

Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

Recording of Materials

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Please note:  This is a preliminary web course description. The department reserves the right to change without notice any information in this description.  An official course outline will be distributed in the first class of the semester and/or posted on Courselink.