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Thermodynamics : Only experimental?

  1. Mar 21, 2012 #1
    Ok I read in a book that thermodynamics is an experimental science. What exactly does experimental science mean?

    Also does computational science come under experimental science or as an alternative to it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2012 #2
    I think it may have to do with the many thermodynamics science is done with data tables that came about as a result of people performing experiments in the lab. Check out steam tables for example, where people would heat up steam, and record pressure (and other properties...etc). In contrast, some other sciences have pretty equations that can predict a lot of the phenomena without heavy reliance of experimentally obtained measurements.

    Computational science may count as experimental science if the underlying physics is very well understood. These are usually expressed in terms of partial differential equations, for example, and computing can be similar to actually doing experiments in the lab. In modern engineering design work this type of computational experiments can save money on actually running the experiments etc. This is probably also why modern bikes are lighter
  4. Mar 21, 2012 #3


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    Thermodynamics isn't strictly experimental. There are many situations where a purely theoretical model very accurately predicts experimental data.

    Generally speaking, models which must account for many locally unknown variables tend to require experimental measurements, as there are too many free parameters to effectively compute the answer. Thermodynamics is often a many-body problem, the statistics of which cannot be numerically solved. Therefore, models have been built based on variables which are convenient to measure in the lab.
  5. Mar 22, 2012 #4


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    I would disregard that statement from your book.
  6. Mar 22, 2012 #5


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    It could depend on what you mean by thermodynamics. Sometimes the terms is used as to include statistical mechanics.

    But in a strict usage (macroscopic) thermodynamics does not include any models.

    And in the same usage I would say it doesn't predict experimental data in the absolute, it predicts experimental data from other experimental data. Which can save the trouble of obtaining it. For example you do not need to directly measure the heat produced in a chemical reaction if it is more convenient to measure the effect of temperature on the equilibrium of that reaction from which you can confidently calculate what it must be (you could say predict it - but if you verify it experimentally you have not really added anything unless there are non-thermodynamic assumptions built in).

    Whether we conclude (or define) that it is an experimental science or not, it is certainly used in experimental science.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2012
  7. Mar 22, 2012 #6
    I would go further, I would throw away that book and pick one up which treats statistical mechanics
  8. Mar 29, 2012 #7
    Sorry, zoned out for a bit.

    Why is it that the "STATISTICS" cannot be numerically solved. Why do we solve it statistically, I mean instead of other tools?
  9. Mar 29, 2012 #8

    "Thermodynamics is an exacting experimental science because it has turned out to be quite difficult and time-consuming to make very accurate measurements of properties over a range of condtns (Temp, Press,Comp) over a wide range of materials of interest in the modern world."
  10. Mar 29, 2012 #9

    So this is because we can simply calculate the macroscopic properties you mean?
    What is the difference b/w macroscopic and microscopic thermodynamics in your context?
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