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Preface
c
±
2009 by Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik
31 May 2009
This text is about two closely related subjects: thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
Thermodynamics is a general theory of macroscopic systems which provides limits on allowable
physical processes involving energy transformations and relations between various measurable
quantities. Its power is in its generality. Its limitation is that all quantitative predictions require
empirical inputs. Statistical mechanics provides a microscopic foundation for thermodynamics and
can be used to make quantitative predictions about macroscopic systems. Thermodynamics has
always been important, but is of particular relevance at present because of important policy and
engineering issues that require an understanding of thermal systems. These issues include global
climate change, the search for new sources of energy, and the need for more eFcient uses of energy.
Statistical mechanics has become much more important in physics and related areas because its
tools can now be implemented on computers and are much more widely applicable. These ap
plications include lattice gauge theories in high energy physics, many problems in astrophysics,
biological physics and geophysics, as well as topics traditionally considered outside of physics such
as social networks and ±nance.
Although statistical mechanics and thermodynamics are central to many research areas in
physics and other sciences, both have had less of a presence in the undergraduate curriculum than
classical mechanics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. It wasn’t that many years ago
that statistical mechanics was not even part of the undergraduate physics curriculum at many
colleges and universities. Our text is part of an e²ort to bring some of the recent advances in
research into the undergraduate curriculum.
Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics are diFcult to teach and to learn. The reasons for
these diFculties include the following.
•
There is not much emphasis on thermodynamics and statistical mechanics in the introductory
physics course sequence, and what is taught in this context is typically not done well.
•
Thermodynamics involves phenomenological reasoning without using microscopic informa
tion. This approach is little used in other undergraduate courses.
•
Students have had little experience making the connection between microscopic and macro
scopic phenomena.
viii
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View Full DocumentPREFACE
ix
•
Many calculations are unfamiliar and involve the use of multivariable calculus. The usual no
tation is confusing because physicists use the same symbol to denote a physical quantity and
a functional form. For example,
S
represents the entropy whether it is written as a function
of the energy
E
, volume
V
, and particle number
N
, or if we replace
E
by the temperature
T
. Also the distinction between total and partial derivatives is sometimes confusing. These
issues arise in other physics courses, but are more important in thermodynamics because of
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 Spring '12
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 Thermodynamics, mechanics, Statistical Mechanics

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