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Physics 117 - Statistical Mechanics

beccropped picture This course concerns the behavior of energy and matter in systems having a great many particles. In it we explore the mechanical basis for temperature and entropy, learn why heat flows from hot to cold, why the nozzle of the propane dispenser gets freezing cold on a hot day, why ice shatters boulders, and why there is an arrow of time. The discovery in 1995 of Bose-Einstein condensation in an ultracold vapor of alkali atoms has sparked a great deal of excitement in this fundamental field of physics.

Our approach to statistical mechanics and thermodynamics includes both classical and quantum mechanical views of physical systems and begins with the basic concepts of probability and statistics. We will pay particular emphasis in the course to simple model systems for which we can obtain quantitative results that may be compared to experiment. In particular, ideal (and nearly ideal) gases and quantum mechanical spin systems.

The course includes the statistics of the microcanonical, canonical, and grand canonical ensembles; the relation between classical and quantum statistical mechanics; the Planck distribution, bosons, fermions, and doped semiconductors, among others; and an introduction to kinetic theory.

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History of thermodynamics

new picture Solid State Simulations at Cornell University

new picture Top 10 things you should know about the chemical potential

Homework assignments

WebCT — WebCT is a bit like WebCrossing, which you may have used in a previous course. It has many capabilities, most of which I will ignore in this first go-around. What I am interested in from you is comments on the reading, on the text, and on the course in general. When you first access WebCT, you are asked to create your account. I recommend using the same name as your other computer accounts: first letter of your first name, followed by your last name.

Updated 12/9/02 .