• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products Here!

Classical treatment of statistical mechanics

  • Thread starter The_Doctor
  • Start date
  • #1
17
0

Main Question or Discussion Point

I've been reading, in my own time, a first course in thermodynamics and they present a quantum treatment of statistical mechanics (discrete energy levels), but on the article for the partition function on wikipedia, I find out that there is a classical treatment of statistical mechanics as well, where (I presume) energy levels are continuous and you use integrals.

Is the classical treatment of statistical mechanics taught at university?

If not, are there any important ideas in classical statistical mechanics one should know?

Is it ever still used?

Is it valid?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,856
1,654
Is the classical treatment of statistical mechanics taught at university?
Yes - to all questions.

For eg. http://home.comcast.net/~szemengtan/ [Broken] (scroll to "statistical mechanics")
Classical statistical mechanics is as "valid" as any classical physics.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #3
17
0
Forgive me, but I cannot seem to find classical statistical mechanics from your link. The review of classical thermodynamics doesn't seem to have any statistical mechanics and the fundamentals of statistical mechanics seems to have discrete energy levels.

Also, so at a microscopic level, are molecules' energy levels quantised? And are there well-known experiments that confirm/refute this fact?
 
  • #4
UltrafastPED
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,912
216
When I studied statistical mechanics in graduate school the principle difference was whether you used:

1. Maxwell-Boltzman statistics: classical (each particle can be tagged/distinguished from the others)
2. Bose-Einstein statistics: bosons (they all look alike, and like each other)
3. Fermi-Dirac statistics: fermions (they all look alike, but obey the Pauli "housing rules")

For the similarities and differences see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell–Boltzmann_statistics

The principles of thermodynamics are unchanged.

Note: our principle focus today is on the quantum side - because so much of our materials and device engineering depends upon quantum effects. For example: heat engines are classical, but fuel cells depend upon quantum effects/statistics.
 
  • #5
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,856
1,654
Yep - classical statistical mechanics is usually included in thermodynamics courses in some way.
I may have misrecalled the amount that it was included in the SzeTan lectures :(
Try: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~franzen/public_html/CH795N/lecture/XIII/XIII.html
... scroll to "classical partition function". Closer to what you had in mind?

The courses do not tend to go into great depth because of the impact of quantization on the statistics.
Earlier treatments consider stuff like the Rayleigh-Jeans Law - foundational concepts.
You'll also see "semi-classical statistical mechanics".

You realize that classical mechanics is usually thought of as a subset of quantum mechanics?
It follows that classical physics is "valid" up to a point.

Molecular energy levels are quantized - yes.
Look up the operation of CO2 lasers for an example.
http://www.phy.davidson.edu/stuhome/jimn/final/pages/finalmolecular.htm
http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1948ApJ...107..386H
 
  • #6
529
28
Note: our principle focus today is on the quantum side - because so much of our materials and device engineering depends upon quantum effects. For example: heat engines are classical, but fuel cells depend upon quantum effects/statistics.
There is actually a lot of interest in classical Stat Mech still (although, Quantum Stat Mech is probably still more researched). As an answer to the OP, classical Stat Mech is very useful in biological systems where quantum effects are rarely seen. One of the post-doc's that I worked with did all of his research in classical Stat Mech and mostly applied it to proteins.
 
  • #7
17
0
Yep - classical statistical mechanics is usually included in thermodynamics courses in some way.
I may have misrecalled the amount that it was included in the SzeTan lectures :(
Try: http://www4.ncsu.edu/~franzen/public_html/CH795N/lecture/XIII/XIII.html
... scroll to "classical partition function". Closer to what you had in mind?
Yeah, but I don't know Hamiltonian mechanics yet :(. Guess I'll have to learn it first.

The courses do not tend to go into great depth because of the impact of quantization on the statistics.
Earlier treatments consider stuff like the Rayleigh-Jeans Law - foundational concepts.
Yes, we learnt the existence of this problem in high school; well we only really learnt that Planck resolved it (it was called the 'black-body radiation problem') by quantising energy, E=hf

You'll also see "semi-classical statistical mechanics".
Semi-classical? Where some energy levels are discrete and some are continuous?

You realize that classical mechanics is usually thought of as a subset of quantum mechanics?
It follows that classical physics is "valid" up to a point.

Molecular energy levels are quantized - yes.
Look up the operation of CO2 lasers for an example.
http://www.phy.davidson.edu/stuhome/jimn/final/pages/finalmolecular.htm
http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1948ApJ...107..386H
These links deal with the vibrational energy (I haven't read them yet, although I plan to, just havent' had time yet); but what about the translational kinetic energy? Is this quantised too?

There is actually a lot of interest in classical Stat Mech still (although, Quantum Stat Mech is probably still more researched). As an answer to the OP, classical Stat Mech is very useful in biological systems where quantum effects are rarely seen. One of the post-doc's that I worked with did all of his research in classical Stat Mech and mostly applied it to proteins.
Now that you mention it, I remember noticing an article on the MIT science page that said some researchers had found out that the effieciency of an E Coli cell was very close to the Carnot Engine! Very efficient indeed.

The paper is here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4818538. You can access it without payment, it' s released under creative commons. There are some integral signs, so I presume it does use classical mechanics!!
 
  • #8
UltrafastPED
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,912
216
This paper seems a bit advanced for your background.

The question is: why are you reading it?
 
  • #9
17
0
I'm not. It was an example of drew's comment that classical stat mech is used in biological systems, I presume that is an example, though I'm not 100% sure because, as you say, it's advanced for my level.
 
  • #10
Simon Bridge
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
17,856
1,654
Yeah, but I don't know Hamiltonian mechanics yet :(. Guess I'll have to learn it first.
Yep - formal statistical mechanics tends to be senior or post-grad college for a reason ;)

Semi-classical? Where some energy levels are discrete and some are continuous?
It's a term you can look up to learn more ;)

These links deal with the vibrational energy (I haven't read them yet, although I plan to, just havent' had time yet); but what about the translational kinetic energy? Is this quantised too?
No more than it is quantized for individual particles.

The electrons shared between nuclei in covalent bonds have discrete kinetic energy levels.
If the molecule is confined by a potential, then the system will have discrete kinetic energy levels.
However - the more complicated the system the more complicated the energy levels can be. You can get situations where it is simpler to treat bands of very closely spaced energy levels as if they are continuous. Look up "band theory of solids".

At the level you are at - I'd concentrate on the core concepts first and do the complications later when you've got those down.
 
  • #11
DrDu
Science Advisor
6,032
759
I think classical statistical thermodynamics is not of importance any more, even in teaching.
The main problem is that it is not clear how to count states as there aren't any.
E.g. in deriving the entropy of a classical gas, the Sakur Tetrode equation, you have to amend your treatment and introduce phase space cells which becomes only clear once you introduce quantum mechanics.
I would also not consider the Maxwell Boltzmann statistics as classical because you obviously can have distinguishable particles also in quantum mechanics.
 

Related Threads on Classical treatment of statistical mechanics

  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
970
  • Last Post
Replies
7
Views
8K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
801
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
3K
Replies
3
Views
2K
Replies
3
Views
1K
Replies
14
Views
305
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
525
  • Last Post
Replies
3
Views
3K
Top