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Physical Chemistry books (Thermodynamics/Statistical Thermodynamics/Kinetics/QM)

  1. Sep 19, 2010 #1
    I've been trying to learn more about physical chemistry, especially since only after graduating did I realize how neat of a field it is. In my undergraduate program, we had a course in classical thermodynamics (we never reached statistical mechanics or kinetics), then there was a quantum chemistry course (which, while challenging and interesting, was still kind of narrow in its scope). Also, I had two semesters of non-calculus intensive physics (calculus was used, but as a whole, the course was a watered-down version) and two semesters of calculus (all that my degree required).

    The physical chemistry textbooks I used in school were:
    -Thermodynamics, Statistical Thermodynamics, and Kinetics, Engel & Reid
    -Introduction to Quantum Mechanics in Chemistry, Materials Science, and Biology, S.M. Blinder
    -Experiments in Physical Chemistry, Garland, Nibler, & Shoemaker

    I was most impressed with Garland et. al. Unfortunately, it is not a general textbook and I used it only in my physical chemistry lab. S.M. Blinder was good and accessible and I learned a lot from it, but it seemed to compromise on depth. The semester that I took Quantum Chem, the department had just switched to Blinder from Donald McQuarrie's book.
    I was not impressed with Engel & Reid, and would like another book to replace it in my library.

    Anyhow, there are tons of books on Amazon.com about thermodynamics, statistical thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. For classical thermo, I'm looking for something more as a reference. For statistical thermodynamics, I need an introductory book. For Quantum Mechanics, I'd prefer an introductory book that has more of a chemistry focus than a physics focus (I'm leaning toward McQuarrie, but want to hear some recommendations first).

    [EDIT] I realized that I should give more background as to myself. Currently, I'm working for a professor at a different university who does theoretical chemistry. Also, I'm taking more math courses (Multivariable Calc. and Linear Algebra at least), so hopefully that won't hold me back in the future. I'd *really* like a book that has a good explanation of group theory applications to QM. Right now, I have Group Theory and Chemistry by David Bishop, which is excellent.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2010 #2


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    Well, let's see.. Atkins "Physical Chemistry" is very popular (also in an abriged "Elements of.." version that I don't recommend if you intend to specialize in this). I actually never liked Atkins much; found it rather unengaging. That said, it has a lot in it, and covers the whole field pretty well.

    I've heard good things about McQuarrie's book, although I haven't seen it. I do have his "Molecular Thermodynamics", which I liked a lot.

    With QM I find it a bit hard to recommend a 'chemistry-oriented' textbook, even though there are many of them. These books usually stress the concepts and leave out much of the rigorous math and formalism. Which is fine if you want to understand the concepts of QC and perhaps do some calculations, but not if you intend to specialize. Two good books in this respect (within quantum chem) are Piela's "Ideas of QC" and Koch's "A Chemist's Guide to DFT" (although the latter of course only treats DFT methods). These are pure QC books which don't treat chemically-relevant quantum mechanics subjects like spectroscopy, but there are also similar books within spectroscopy (which often have similar deficiencies towards QC).

    If you intend to be a well-rounded theoretical chemist/physical chemist/chemical physicist/quantum chemist (it all overlaps), you really need a solid understanding of QM in general, and the chemistry-oriented textbooks just don't really cut it. I'd suggest some introductory QM textbook like Griffiths (which is popular and not too steep a curve), after which you'll be ready to graduate to the heavy ones. (e.g. Messiah, Landau-Lifgarbagez or Cohen-Tannoudji, which btw, do utilize group-theory methods) Those will cover pretty much all the fundamental QM you'll ever need to know. (Since QED/QFT and relativistic theory aren't generally important to phys-chem/chem-phys. You can probably skip any chapters on scattering theory too, without much harm.) Everything else is just specialization.

    With math, you can never know too much, really. I'd say linear algebra and multivariate calculus is a minimum. I'd also suggest any courses available on diff. equations/transforms (and later, PDEs). Complex analysis is a good idea too, both for understanding QM, but also for getting a deeper understanding of math in general. Vector calculus is worth a mention, but perhaps less important.

    Anyway, if you study the above (and the 'heavy' textbooks can likely wait until you're a grad student), then you've essentially got your choice of QC, Chemical Physics, Physical Chemistry, Atom-Mol phys.. calculations, spectroscopy, NMR, etc. Solid fundamentals opens a lot of doors.
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