Thermal and Statistical Physics

Instructor: Horst D Wahl,

Office 512 Keen Bldg.
Phone 644-3509
Office Hours: Tuesday, Thursday after class and by appointment, any time you can get a hold of me

Office TBA Keen Bldg.

Class meetings: Tuesday, Thursday, 9:30 to 10:45 in UPL 211
First Class meeting: Tuesday, 7 Jan 2020 at 9:30

Tutorial session: time and place to be defined.
Prerequisite: PHY3101, PHZ3113, MAC2313

"Statistical Physics and Thermal Physics", by Jochen Rau, Oxford University Press 2017, ISBN 978-0199595075

Homework: Weekly, due every Tuesday.
Homework turned in late without valid excuse will be given 50% credit.
Midterms: One hour during class time, twice.
First midterm: Thursday, 13 February 2020 during class time.
Second midterm: Thursday, 26 March 2020 during class time.
Pop Quizzes: There will be a few Pop Quizzes at random times which will allow you to earn extra points.
Final exam: Monday, 27 April 2020, 7:30 to 9:30 UPL 211.

About the course:
The purpose of this course is to familiarize the student with the basic laws of thermodynamics and statistical physics. Statistical and thermal physics concern the behavior of systems that are made up of very large numbers of microscopic units. Thus, they form the bridge between the descriptions of the macroscopic and the microscopic worlds. In your previous physics courses, you have typically learned to treat systems that consist of just one or a few "parts," such as a simple pendulum, the trajectory of a cannon ball, or planetary motion. You may even have been told that we cannot solve exactly anything more than a system of two interacting particles, such as a hydrogen atom or the orbit of a single planet orbiting its sun. In statistical and thermal physics we look at the problem from the other end: systems with a very large number of parts, such as the number of molecules in a mole of gas, Avogadro's Number, which is of the order of 1023. We will start out with a review of probability theory and summarize some of the elements of quantum theory which are needed in the context of statistical physics of quantum systems. We will then introduce the concepts of entropy and information. The discusson of statistical mechanics will be in terms of the quantum formalism from the beginning. We will introduce the concept of microstates and macroscopic states and discuss partition functions. After looking at a few simple systems, we will consider the thermodynamic limit of systems and homogeneity. Then we will introduce the concepts of extensive and intensive variables and discuss stability criteria, followed by ensembles and their equivalence in the thermodynamic limit. The four laws of thermodynamics will appear as natural consequences of the statistical framework. The rules of statistical mechanics will then be applied to a perfect gas and then specialized to consider Fermi and Boson gases. A discussion of processes and responses will then lead us to define thermodynamic potentials and thermodynamic coefficients. We'll conclude with a short discussion of phase transitions.
There will be a lot of exercises and homework, an essential ingredient in furthering and deepening understanding. The tentative course schedule is given here, called "tentative" since it may well change, depending on speed of progress.

The emphasis will be on developing intuition by paper-and-pencil analytical work.
Homework is an integral part of the course and acounts for 25% of the total grade. Working problems is absolutely essential to developing a true understanding of the material. There will be tutorial sessions where you will have occasion to ask questions and get help with solving problems. You will be expected to show how far you got in your solution, and we'll go from there. Attending these tutorials is highly recommended.

Grade ingredients:
1st midterm exam
2nd midterm exam
Final exam 35%

The following table contains the approximate minimum number of points (for 100 points maximum) necessary to achieve a given letter grade:
grade limits:

If, for example, you earn 90 points, your grade will be no worse than an A-, etc.

Important update on grading:
In view of the Covid 19 situation, students have the option to ask for S/U grade instead of a letter grade. You are eligible for S if your letter grade would be at least a C-. You can ask for this during the period from Monday, March 30 until Sunday, April 12 2020.


Here follow a few additional statements which by FSU rules have to be part of a syllabus (see

  • ADA statement (Americans With Disabilities Act):
  • Students with disabilities needing academic accommodations should:
    (a) register with, and provide documentation to, the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC); and
    (b) bring a letter to the instructor indicating the need for accommodation and what type. This should be done during the first week of class.
    For more information about services available to FSU students with disabilities, contact the: Student Disability Resource Center:
    874 Traditions Way 108
    Student Services Building
    Florida State University
    Tallahassee, FL 32306-4167
    (850) 644-9566 (voice) (850) 644-8504 (TDD)
    email , Resource Center's web site .

  • Academic honor code:
  • Students are expected to uphold the Academic Honor Code published in The Florida State University Bulletin and in the Student Handbook. The Academic Honor System of Florida State University is based on the premise that each student has the responsibility

    The Florida State University Academic Honor Policy outlines the University's expectations for the integrity of students' academic work, the procedures for resolving alleged violations of those expectations, and the rights and responsibilities of students and faculty members throughout the process. Students are responsible for reading the Academic Honor Policy and for living up to their pledge to ". . . be honest and truthful and . . . [to] strive for personal and institutional integrity at Florida State University." (Florida State University Academic Honor Policy, found at http://

  • University Attendance Policy:
  • Excused absences include documented illness, deaths in the family and other documented crises, call to active military duty or jury duty, religious holy days, and official University activities. These absences will be accommodated in a way that does not arbitrarily penalize students who have a valid excuse. Consideration will also be given to students whose dependent children experience serious illness.

  • Free Tutoring from FSU:
  • On-campus tutoring and writing assistance is available for many courses at Florida State University. For more information, visit the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) Tutoring Services' comprehensive list of tutoring options - see or contact for more information. High-quality tutoring is available by appointment and on a walk-in basis. These services are offered by tutors trained to encourage the highest level of individual academic success while upholding personal academic integrity.

  • Syllabus Change Policy
  • Except for changes that substantially affect implementation of the evaluation (grading) statement, this syllabus is a guide for the course and is subject to change with advance notice