Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Mystery of Thermal Physics

David Goodstein

Ice Cubes

When I was an undergraduate student, thermodynamics was a complete mystery to me. One had all these formulas that you could push around, but the underlying meaning was never clear. But when I grew up, I came to love thermodynamics and the statistical mechanics from which it arose. My book, Thermal Physics, Energy and Entropy is an attempt to let all students appreciate the beauty of this subject.

The idea starts with the quantization of the states of matter, making them, in principle, countable. We then see that what really matters in all kinds of problems is not which states are available, but the much simpler question of how many states there are. That great insight, which is the key to the concept of entropy, changes the whole ball game.

The book goes on from there to deal with all of the topics inherent in statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. To begin with there’s a chapter on the care and feeding of thermodynamic variables, followed by a consideration of gases and other matters. The ideal gas will be the prime example to be treated throughout the book. Then comes the laws of thermodynamics, followed by a chapter on the Boltzmann factor and the partition function, including the density of states. The last three chapters treat thermodynamic functions, fixed and variable numbers of particles, and some more advanced topics.

This is a short book, just 165 pages in all, including solutions to all of the problems at the ends of the chapters. The idea is to give you, the student, a solid grasp of what’s most important about this marvelous subject.

About The Author

David Goodstein

David Goodstein author of Thermal Physics, Energy and Entropy is the Frank J. Gilloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor Emeritus at the California Institute of Technolog...

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