Physics 352: Foundations of Physics II Thermodynamics


Prof Eric Corwin
374 Willamette Hall


MWThF 12:00 – 12:50 pm, 110 Willamette Hall

Office hours

Thursday 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, or by appointment, 374 Willamette Hall
You are strongly encouraged to come to office hours, either with course-related questions, or just to chat.

Teaching Assistant (GTF) Eryn Cook — office hours TBA


An Introduction to Thermal Physics by Daniel V. Schroeder.  This book should be available at the bookstore as well as from online sources.  This text will also be used in Physics 353.


Ludwig Boltzman, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously.

–Opening lines of “States of Matter”, by D.L. Goodstein.

In light of the above caution, this course will lay the groundwork for lay the groundwork for a study of statistical mechanics (to be completed in Physics 353) by introducing and exploring the field of thermodynamics.  For perhaps the first time in your scientific career you will be confronted with the unimaginable complexity of a breath of air, consisting of about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual and interacting particles.  Since we can not hope to solve the equations of motion for each particle we are forced to search for emergent, collective, properties which might allow us to simplify such a system into something comprehensible.

More broadly, this course aims to assist you in your development as a scientist.  We hope to demonstrate to you that physics is not a collection of facts and formulae, nor a series of disconnected topics, but rather a unified (but incomplete) approach towards understanding the world using critical and analytical thinking.

Question to start class

Each class will begin with a conceptual question, related in some way to the topics of study.  These questions are intended to push you to integrate your knowledge and understanding of physics into a coherent whole.  You will have about 5 minutes to try to puzzle things out for yourself and then another 5 minutes to try to convince your neighbors that you are right.  Afterwards we will discuss as a class.


There will be weekly problem sets.  Except by prior arrangement late homework will only be accepted until 24 hours after the deadline and will automatically lose 50% of its score.

Problem sets exist to aid you in understanding and reasoning about physics.  I don’t care much about the numerical answer.  I care that you understand what you are doing and can articulate your thought-process.  To this end, I will require that all problem set solutions be in the form of fully explained well-written English.  I will provide examples in class to help everyone understand what I mean.  Each question will be graded out of 15 points total, 10 points for scientific correctness of your answer and 5 points for the clarity and quality of your writing.  An example of how to write a problem set solution in plain English can be found here.

I understand that this is unusual and may initially chafe.  However, I hope to convince you of the merits of this approach, which I believe will aid your understanding and better prepare you to become scientists.

Homework groups

Students are highly encouraged to collaborate on homework, but reminded that the work you submit should be your own.  I can almost guarantee that by working with others you will achieve a deeper understanding of physics and get a better grade in the course.  If you get stuck on a problem, don’t spin your wheels for very long. It is useful to struggle for a while, but it is a waste of your time to stare at one problem for hours.  Instead, talk to your problem set group or come to office hours.

By the end of week 1 I would like you to submit a list of your problem set group (probably no bigger than 5 or 6 people at the maximum).  You are, of course, free to modify this over time, move in and out of groups, etc.  If you haven’t put one together yet, I can match you with other students with similar schedules.  If you are adamant about working alone, I won’t force you to change, but I’d like you to inform me of that as well.


Final grades will be determined by the combination of scores on homework, a midterm, and a final.  Your grade will be supplemented by your class participation as measured by engaging in the question to start class as well as answering and asking questions in class.

Students with disabilities

If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion, please notify me as soon as possible. You are also welcome to contact Disability Services in 164 Oregon Hall, 346-1155.

Soft Matter Physics at the University of Oregon