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Statistical Mechanics = Nightmare

  1. Feb 13, 2014 #1
    That's the only equation I know on the topic so far. I'm an undergrad physics major and one of my courses this term is statistical mechanics which I am finding to be overwhelmingly difficult to understand. Apparently the course is considered "graduate level," although they still require us to take it; the instructor mentioned this on the first day...and said the text is a graduate level text. I've taken many upper level courses, quantum and E&M, PDE etc. so I am competent in Physics in general, but I cannot follow discussions in my text for Stat Mech.

    Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics; Frederick Reif

    If anyone has read this book, do you consider beyond the scope of undergrad physics? We are not required to take statistics or thermodynamics either which I am worried about...

    Are there any alternative texts that covers the same topics but in a manner that is easier for undergad students to understand?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2014 #2
    I do not think Reif is generally considered graduate level, but I have never used it. If you look at the files of most grad schools at gradschoolshopper, the vast majority expect an undergrad preparation with Griffiths(EM and QM), Taylor(mechanics), and Reif.

    My undergrad SM course was taught using this book, which has "an advanced course" in the title:


    and a few manuals from my prof covering more of the theory. I loved it and recommend it highly. I was also concerned about not having formally studied statistics or combinatorics before the subject, but fortunately it was easy enough to pick up what I needed along the way. It's a great subject and really helps to cement what you already know from prior physics courses, as it really has a little bit of everything.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Feb 13, 2014 #3
    I took Statistical Mechanics last semester and had a wonderful time with the material (it's one of my favorite areas of physics). I read Reif's book on the side (It was not required for our course) and I found it to be good, but very dense. Reif is a great book, it has almost everything one would need to know for a first SM course and then some, however it is one of those books where every sentence has a meaning, and the author is not very clear on what that meaning is.

    Overall I would not consider it to be a graduate level text, as it covers too much, too superficially (there is almost no mention of interacting systems and not much on QSM). The primary text used in my course was Greiner's book:


    It has a good introduction to classical thermo at the beginning, then covers most of SM and QSM with a few chapters on real gases and interacting systems. I will warn you that it is much more mathematically sophisticated than Reif, however it's pedagogy is far superior (if one can get past the sometimes humorous translation from German). The only downside is that it contains no problems, however there are tons of examples that the authors utilize very well to illustrate how the theory works.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Feb 13, 2014 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Feb 13, 2014 #5


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    Reif was the standard text used for decades in the undergrad thermal physics course I sat in on (I was an EE grad student at the time). I have worked through a fair amount of it on my own and solved a reasonable number of problems and I think it isn't bad. But it is really wordy and takes a lot of work (with pencil and paper) to read. He also has all kinds of definitions and assumptions buried in paragraphs, so I found that I had to write my own short summaries of each chapter which highlighted the important stuff. Too bad I lost them :(

    If I were you I would make sure I was going to office hours and speaking with the prof about what parts you are having trouble with. Asking specific questions here at physicsforums will often get useful replies as well.

    If you are looking for other books, I recommed looking at any books the prof has on reserve, and browsing the stacks in the university library. I personally think that "thermal physics" by Schroeder is much easier to read than Reif, but that is a matter of taste and might not work for you.

  7. Feb 13, 2014 #6


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    Reif was the text I used when I took SM in my junior year.

    OP, you said you are not required to take thermo. Does this mean you have had no exposure at all to it? Are others in the class struggling? Have you discussed this with your professor?
  8. Feb 14, 2014 #7
    I've heard about Reif being used (a couple of problems on our problem sets were taken from it): we used Sturge and another book. Sturge is OK (it's not very well written), but it might be worth taking a look.
  9. Feb 14, 2014 #8
    I think your professor has psyched you out by saying that it's graduate level. I'm also currently using Reif and have found it extremely dense and wordy but not necessarily confusing. So far, I dislike the book and am also looking for a different author... I do not like organization the author uses.

    Also, I have taken a mathematical statistics course and while it has helped a bit, the amount of statistics used in Reif is relatively elementary. On the other hand, I have not taken quantum so some of the examples I am not familiar with.
  10. Feb 27, 2014 #9
    Not much exposure at all, I' mean obviously I am familiar with the some of the topics in introductory physics I,II, and III courses and chemistry, but not very sophisticated stuff.

    However, we are currently looking at chapter 5 in the Reif and I've been solving some problems in there and the material is not all that bad, pretty straight forward and it's thermo so I guess I'm getting my intro to thermo right now. Now we were just working on some thermo because chapter 5 in the Reif contains quite a bit of it and I've been digging through that.

    And yes, other students have been struggling but many of us are actually making progress including myself and he has decided to wait and do the first midterm after spring break.
  11. Feb 27, 2014 #10
    I wonder if the Susskind lectures on statistical mechanics might help. Seemed pretty understandable to me, although, since I was only self-studying, I didn't make it through them or Reif due to being too busy with other things.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  12. Feb 28, 2014 #11
    I do not think Reif is necessarily graduate level, but I think graduate students can learn from it. Pathria and Beale is less introductory (i.e. harder). We used Kittel, Thermal Physics as an undergraduate, and I prefer Reif which I used as a graduate student who had to make up a thermal course, later in my career. To prepare for my qualifiers I remember using Zemansky and Sears and Salinger.

    I do think Thermo is harder and less interesting than stat mech. Things will probably get better
  13. Feb 28, 2014 #12


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    We used Reif in my first thermodynamics course (we used a more advanced book for my grad stat phys course). We had no exposure at all to thermodynamics or stat phys before that course, meaning Reif was/is considered to be an introductory text for thermodynamics and statistical physics.

    That said, I also struggled at the the time and Reif is -in my view- better as a reference text than as a textbook for a course (I still keep a copy handy, not that I have to use it much).

  14. Feb 28, 2014 #13


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    I'm glad you are catching on. Make sure you take advantage of profs office hours - it can help a lot, and also helps the prof get to know you and understand how his pace/level is working out for the class.

    best wishes,

  15. Feb 28, 2014 #14
    Pathria is really great long term book. I would sell my ugrad textbook and buy Pathria to keep.
  16. Feb 28, 2014 #15
    Blundell and Blundell, my friend.
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