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Ever taken thermodynamics?

  1. May 13, 2003 #1
    ever taken thermodynamics?

    if so, as a chemistry course (i.e, physical chemistry) or as a physics course?

    what was it about thermo that gave you difficulties, if any?

    what would have made a course in thermodynamics easier for you to learn?

    how would you change your thermodynamics textbook?

    what would make a good thermodynamics study guide?

    i would also love to hear the perspective of people that took thermodynamics in a non-american institution.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 4, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2003 #2


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    I took Engineering Thermodynamics, which besides talking about the laws, discusses thermodynamic cycles, ie the steam engine.

    Many fields of study learn about the laws of thermo (I first learned the first law in 8th grade physical science).

    As far as problems, I think its very important to get a good handle on the basics of the theory before going into the applications. So the first two weeks of the course is critical. Just the vocabulary can be a hangup: entropy, enthalpy, adiabatic, isentropic, etc.
  4. May 13, 2003 #3


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    I'll concur. The very first time I saw anything about thermo was as a 1-1/2 week module in physics 1. We had just learned about the basic concepts of work and energy, so it hadn't really had a chance to gel yet. Then throw in vocabulary of words which all sound the same with differences relating to concepts that I hadn't completely internalized yet... *shudder*

    On the other hand, when I actually took my dedicated 'Thermo' class (Engineering, non M.E., junior level) things went much more smoothly for me. If you "get" the first two or three weeks, the rest of the class is just window dressing.
  5. May 14, 2003 #4
    <eager to hear a lot more feedback>
  6. May 14, 2003 #5


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    Hmm..Are u a teacher looking for ways to improve the curricilum? Or student looking to understand how to study thermo?

    Well, I had a thermo unit in Phyiscs B...I guess the hardest thing (which I only understood a couple weeks before the ap test) is the sign convention with positive work and negative work and positive heat and negative heat...

    But, thats a simple course..nothign confusing like college..Havent heard of "enthalpy" or "isentropic" ..
  7. May 14, 2003 #6

    Tom Mattson

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    Thermo and I have a rocky relationship. I got my BS in engineering prior to going to grad school for physics. I took the Engineering thermo, thinking that I would not need to take the Physics thermo as well.

    Big mistake.

    In my first semester of grad school, I took this nasty course called Statistical Mechanics. I found out that thermo had grown up, and I had not. Believe me, graduate Stat Mech is NOT the place you want to hear about a "partition function" for the very first time. I know from experience.
  8. May 14, 2003 #7


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    At the sophmore/junior level I took different classes and was getting both microscopic (kinetic theory) and macroscopic (basic laws and heat engine stuff) presentations of Thermo simutaneously. It was very difficult to connect the two courses. Then the senior level Thermophysics for physics majors was a first time through for the course Tom is talking about. Tom, without the first time through that I recieved a statistical Mechanics course would be a real eye opener and incrediably tough. That statistical Themo course was absoultly the toughest course I encountered in all my college career. Perhaps if I followed it up with a graduate level 2nd time through it would have made more sense. As it is, though I enternalized only a small fraction of the material presented, it has given me a very fundamental view and understanding of Thermo.
  9. May 15, 2003 #8
    I've taken a couple physics courses. Undergrad thermo wasn't hard; the stat mech part was fun, but the thermo part was annoying and boring. Grad stat mech was another story, critical exponents and the renormalization group blew my mind.

    I would have benefitted from a better mathematical background at the time I thing... it helps to understand differentials and partials really well, and Legendre transforms too. What I always got hung up on was understanding what was going on with all the different potentials and types of derivatives.
  10. May 17, 2003 #9
    did anybody use any study guides (other than their text book) ?

    if so, was it even useful?
  11. May 17, 2003 #10
    I took Thermo just this semester and we spent 2 weeks on all of that derivative stuff and the rest of the time in stat mech. The book we used was Kittel and Kroemer and I like it alot, you can actually do the problems at the end of the chapter with the material they present in the text ( wow! that's a first for physics text books ). But if you want to do all of that derivative stuff which is awful and horrible, I think Thermodynamics by Fermi is pretty good and short and Dover publishes it too so its cheap.
  12. May 18, 2003 #11
    As an undergraduate, I took thermal physics. It was a good class, I leanred a lot in one semester. I only wish I had been more familiar with quantum mechanics before I took it.

    I think thermal physics is a completely different subject than engineering thermodynamics. Thermal physics is basically an introduction to statistical mechanics whereas thermodynamics is more along the lines of the science of engines.

    In my opinion, the best book for learning the subject of thermal physics is Kittel's Thermal Physics. If someone wanted to go into any of the solid state of chemical physics related fields, I would definately recommend taking thermal physics.

  13. May 21, 2003 #12


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    Illuminating --- thermo is a lot like the weather, "...everyone talks about it, but nobody (knows much about/does much with) it."

    Anyone feel comfortable with what they learned in their thermo courses? "Comfortable" means confident/competent to apply thermo to everyday problems/questions? Is it a "finished" field --- everything has been done? Nothing more to learn/discover in the field? A formal requirement for science/engineering degrees --- a hurdle to clear and forget?

    I get the impression from responses so far in this thread that no one here really understands what they remember from the courses they took.

    This really is the physics that is "everything" as opposed to "stamp collecting." You don't get this, you don't ever really get anything. Getting this doesn't guarantee understanding other things, but it is very much a major foundation of physics.
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