Book on thermodynamics for International Physics Olympiad?

  • #1
I'm a junior in high school studying for the IPhO and I've started learning thermodynamics as part of my preparation. I have a guide to the exam that says things like this will be tested:
Carnot engine
Kirchhoff's law
Wien's law
Stefan's law
Stefan-Boltzmann law
Newton's law of cooling
Maxwellian distributions

So I was wondering if any of the good folk here at Physics Forums could suggest a book that treats thermodynamics on an introductory level and covers topics in and around what I've listed.
Thank you

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Oh wow. Congratulations on taking up such an initiative !
May I ask what your level of mathematical knowledge is ?

I'm not familiar with what the Physics Olympiad demands. Does it have a no-calculus rule like the Mathematics Olympiad does ?
  • #3
I don't believe the IPhO requires knowledge of calculus, but it definitely helps and I think it would be rare to find someone there who doesn't know at least integration and differentiation.
As for my maths knowledge, I know a bit of multivariable calculus and how to solve a
few types of differential equations.

Are you appearing for the IPhO?
  • #4
Wow. I'm very impressed that you know multi variable calculus and differential equations already !

No. To be frank, I was always kind of weak in Physics. And, I'm now in college and didn't know about these Olympiad exams when I was in school.

One book that I always found too difficult but has a lot of good problems is the one by I.E.Irodov. You might want to check that out for good problems. I can't give you much useful book recommendations but I'll try and give you some motivation for studying the subject ...

Thermodynamics is very interesting. The second law of Thermodynamics is as famous as Newton's Third Law. Both are regularly cited by pop culture and literature. It also proves the impossibility of the ancient human quest for a perpetual motion machine (Inspite of some ingenious constructions). The idea of entropy increasing is important from a cosmologist's point of view of exploring the universe, and sometimes for defining time itself.
The study of heat was what lead Fourier to his watershed realisation of the idea that any wave can be thought of as the sum of a number of sine and cosine waves. It turns out that it is often easier to solve a problem for these simpler sine waves and then simply super pose their solutions than solving the original problem for the original wave.
Thermodynamics is also important for understanding statistical mechanics and field theory later in college.

Will you be appearing for the International Mathematics Olympiad as well ? I could be more useful with book recommendations for Math.
  • #5
Thank you for your compliment! You can imagine I'm feeling pretty great right now!

As for IE Irodov: well I've actually got the book and was practising problems from the thermodynamics section a few days ago. And boy, are they difficult!
I didn't know it was the study of heat that led Fourier to his series. I'm sure that'll make for some good reading.
I always thought the Maths Olympiad was beyond me but I'll take those recommendations nevertheless. You never know...
  • #6
I'm glad you're feeling great xD

The behaviour of a simple some wave as a heat source was very well understood. But, the scientific community was lost with the more complicated sources real life had to offer. Fourier applied one of the great heuristic principles of mathematics, science and even practical real-life scenarios - "Reduce a problem to a smaller problem that you can solve." His insight was in breaking the wave up into a number of sine and cosine waves. Some musicians jokingly call it Fourier's "atomic theory of music". That's another thing about nature and mathematics. The scorching heat of a Saturday morning and the poignant tune of a heartbreak song are two completely different things. But, they have the same mathematical structure ! That's one of the things I love about mathematics. It encapsulates and abstracts so many different phenomena.
Legend has it that Fourier was seduced by heat when he visited Egypt. He believed that heat also had medicinal properties. He was often found in his steaming hot room trying to discover the secrets of heat. Of course, this may all be an apocryphal tale.

Do well on your test but remember your actual goal is to learn Physics and someday contribute to the field ! Not to score marks or to win prizes.
You will have a serious advantage when you enter college because you already know so much.

And, you say that you find the problems difficult. Are you encountering the kind of block where you don't know how to proceed ? Or are your approaches hitting dead ends ? Or are you having difficulty in executing your approach to its end ?
For me, it was always the first. I drew blanks and ultimately concluded Physics wasn't for me.
  • #7
You're right, the goal is to learn and I could never just stuff anything into my head and expect to get it. Learning is a long process for me and I prize intuition and comprehension of an idea above all things. Of course, there are things that it's near impossible to achieve that for (case in point: quantum theory) but it doesn't mean you don't try.

Of the problems I attempted, I found a few difficult either because a) there were many unknowns to take care of and putting all the factors controlling the solution together was a task or b) the wording was a little funky and I was hazy on what the problem demanded.

So I've taken it upon myself to be on solid ground with thermodynamics before proceeding with problems.
I want to learn more about Fourier series and transforms which I can only get to once I'm better at solving differential equations, but I realize that I will have to be patient and take it one step at a time, one field at a time.
Heat and kinetic theory for now :)

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