Thermodynamics 2020-21

Graeme Ackland is no longer teaching the course. Thermodynamics hasn't changed, so the notes, tutorials and solutions are valid and everything linked from this page should be readable.

Prof. Ackland will deal with issues specifically about this webpage, or interesting questions about the tutorials (i.e. not, "please find my missing minus sign..."). Or about chickens. He's a bit oldy, bamey, maley and preexisting_conditiony, so don't expect to see him around.

The lectures weren't designed with recording in mind. They start with an irrelevant quiz while people are arriving, so don't worry about anything before the "Previously on Thermodynamics" slide. I have a good face for radio, so enjoy the fact that I'm off-screen most of the time.

Thermodynamics 2019-20

Welcome to the homepage for Junior Honours Thermal Physics Part 1: Thermodynamics. Here you will find lecture notes, tutorial sheets, hand-in questions etc. The recommended text on which the course is based is "Thermal Physics" by Finn. There are several copies of the second edition in the library. The Third edition "Finn's Thermal Physics" was updated by Andrew Rex. You should also use my Inverted Textbook on Thermodynamics available free online. Questions and Quetsions and Answers (Second edition)

Thermodynamics is a fantastic and subtle subject - enjoy!

Lectures and Tutorials

Lectures (LTA, Weeks 1-11)

Mo 10h00-10h50
Th 10h00-10h50

Course involves 18 formal lectures and two demonstration-led lectures (all examinable).


Prof Ackland will be available at all the tutorials, and after the lectures, to help with the course or discuss physics more widely. Beyond these 70 contact hours there are no alternate office hours. come to one of...

Mo JCMB 5326/7/8; 14h10-16h00
Th JCMB 4325c; 14h10-16h00

In principle, the rooms are not large enough to accommodate everyone, but if there is space you are welcome to come to both.

Each tutorial will start with a demonstrator-led activity. These will be:
Week 2 Relative energies
Week 3 MCQ test
Week 4 Exam style question T3 on expansion process
Week 5 MCQ test
Week 6 Exam style question T5
Week 7 MCQ test
Week 8 Exam style question T7
Week 9 MCQ test
Week 10 Exam style question T9
Week 11 MCQ test

The MCQs are done through TopHat with join code 911861 A non-assessed quizzes on prerequisite material are available, and mid-smester feeback forms.

I previously posted solutions to the hand-ins and tutorials after the fact. Unfortunately, too many people took this as a cue not to attempt the work until the solutions were available. So the solutions are available from the beginning, on bookboon. It's a much better learning method to try the questions cold first, use the solutions to give yourself feedback on what you did wrong, then try again if there's anything you don't understand mistakes. Despite making the answers available immediately, I hope you will resist temptation to peek, and use them as feedback. Do look at the solutions eventually, as they contain commentary on what physics the question relates to, as well as checking answers.

The overheads used in lectures are not intended to make sense on their own. All necessary information is in the lecture notes, questions and solutions, and in Finn.

Continuous Assessments

There will be short multiple-choice tests at the beginning of the tutorials in weeks 3,5,7,9,11. The best four of these count equally for 12.5% of the coursework mark. You are expected to do them all: no adjustments if you miss one through illness or error.

There will be a short mini-project. This is worth 50% of the coursework mark and may be tackled individually or as a self-assembled group (q.v.). FEEDBACK ON THE MINIPROJECT

Plagiarism and group working for mini-project

We know that students often work closely together on handins. This is a good way to learn. Technically, it is also plagiarism, so we have a process to regularise the situation.

1/ The online tests are done individually, in a short period at the start of the tutorial.

2/ You may work on the mini-project in self-organised groups of up to six. There is no obligation to do this, nor is there any constraint by degree program.

3/ If you do, you must hand in a single submission, with ALL barcodes attached.

4/ Group submission will have no reduction in marks.

What about Assessments for Hand-in?

In previous years the course had four substantial hand-in problems. Although well-liked in themselves, they were repeatedly cited as a reason not to attend tutorials/tackle problem sheet. Although intended as feedback, in practice almost 50% of the marked work was never collected. Overall, I felt this was a negative thing, hence the new approach with MCQs/miniproject from 2018 onwards. The are the old assessments from 2017, doable with the notes but harder than a typical closed-book exam question. They are no longer a required part of the course, but are included for historical interest.

Assessment 1: Ramjet. Indicative marking scheme, parts a-i ( 2,2,3,3,5,3,3,2,2) FEEDBACK

Assessment 2: Steam engine Indicative marking scheme, parts a-i ( 2,3,2,3,5,3,3,2,2) FEEDBACK

Assessment 3: Magnetic Fridge Indicative marking scheme, parts a-i ( 3,2,2,3,4,2,3,4,2) FEEDBACK

Assessment 4: Phase Transition Indicative marking scheme, parts 1-7 (2,2,2,4,4,3,4,4). FEEDBACK

Ongoing Commentary and Feedback

Here I will make a note of feedback given to individual students, in those cases where it seems relevant to the whole class.

You should attempt the tutorial problems in advance of the problems class feedback session.

LECTURES: Will cover the foundations and proofs of thermodynamics, illustrated with examples drawn for various physics problems..

TUTORIAL SHEETS: Will give you the chance to train your skills by practice on a series of problems.

TUTORIALS: Give you a chance to discuss the problems you encountered in doing the tutorial sheet, and get feedback on your solutions.

TUTORIAL SOLUTIONS: Are lengthy and contain not only the answers, but some in-depth description of what physical points the question has been designed to illustrate.

Both lectures and tutorials will cover theory and the practical application by relating it to physical systems which are somewhat familiar. REMEMBER: The Mon/Thurs problem classes are your chance to get feedback on your work from Prof Ackland and two demonstrators I'm going to work on the assumption that anyone who doesn't come is able to do the problems without needing assistance or feedback.

Feedback forms

There will be various opportunities to give written feedback through the year. I hope you find it cathartic. I will respond to it and, judging by previous years, you won't look at my response.

Lecture Notes

Notes for all lectures are available here, they may be subject to minor changes. There are two demonstration lectures without formal notes, but the material therein is still examinable.


Weekly tutorials will be available here, taken from the free online ebook.
Sheet 1: ( PDF )   Properties of materials: Mainly revision
Sheet 2: ( PDF )   Temperature scales, work, equations of state
Sheet 3: ( PDF )   Work and heat, the First Law, expansion processes
Sheet 4: ( PDF )   Cycles and the Second Law
Sheet 5: ( PDF )   Entropy
Sheet 6: ( PDF )   Thermodynamic potentials
Sheet 7: ( PDF )   Expansion processes again
Sheet 8: ( PDF )   Other Systems
Sheet 9: ( PDF )   Phase transitions
Sheet 10: ( PDF )   Chemical Potential

  • Problem solving is an integral part of the course and you are strongly encouraged and to work through the problems on the tutorial sheets and then to attend the class. Prof Ackland and a team of postgraduate students will act as course tutors. Prof Ackland is easily distracted by discussions of other interesting aspects of physics. This year's demonstator team is.

    Solutions to Exercises

    Extensive and discursive answers to the tutorials are provided online.

    Examination Papers

    The "Thermal Physics" examination is at the end of SECOND semester, in a combined paper with Statistical Mechanics. Single-semester visiting students and Geosciences students have a bespoke "Thermodynamics" paper at the end of the first semester. There is a resit paper in August for those who qualify.

    Previous Examination Papers can be found via the central University Library site. This requires an Edinburgh University login. Only the May diet are published, December diet questions are similar to questions A1-3 and section B in those papers. From 2019, the exam format is changed so that you need only answer ALL Section A (1-3 Thermodynamics, 4-6 statistical mechanics), ONE question from section B (Thermodynamics) and ONE from section C (Statistical mechanics). The December exam has three short "Section A" questions and one out of two long "Section B" questions.

    Although there will always be some rote-learnable sections, the examination questions will probe whether you understand what you've been taught, not simply whether you can remember it. The purpose of this course is to teach you some physics, not to help you pass the examination. But if you are interested in passing the examination, it is a good idea to practice with some past papers.
    2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
    There will be additional sessions prior to the examination period in which you can ask for feedback on your attempts at previous examination papers. Remember that while a tutorial problem gives you practice at testing you own understanding, an examination answer also requires you to communicate that information to another human being who marks the paper. A very instructive way to check this is to attempt a paper under exam conditions and then get a friend to mark it

    The overall mark is split between Coursework, 20% and Degree Examination, 80%

    Recommended texts:

    (1) Finn, 'Thermal Physics' ; New Version 2017 "Finn's Thermal Physics" by Andrew Rex
    (2) Ackland 'An inverted textbook on Thermodynamics' Questions and Answers

    Lecture Capture

    This year the lectures will be automatically recorded by Media Hopper Replay and available unedited. However, this will not compromise in any way the in-class experience. A decent 1 minute online talk takes about an hour and multiple takes, so don't expect TED talk standards. If you have to miss a lecture, please look through the notes and Prof. Ackland will be happy to discuss anything at the tutorial.


    There is nothing of use in the lecture overheads which is not already contained in the notes. They are subject to random, unpredictable changes and not intended to make any sense whatsoever without the soundtrack. In short: use the notes.
    Lecture 1
    Lecture 2
    Lecture 3
    Lecture 4
    Lecture 5
    Lecture 6
    Lecture 7
    Lecture 8
    Lecture 9
    Lecture 10
    Lecture 11
    Lecture 12
    Lecture 13
    Lecture 14
    Lecture 15
    Lecture 16
    Lecture 17
    Lecture 18
    Lecture 19 >

    Light Relief

    Once long ago I was allowed to write poultry-related questions for the Senior Honours Physics Skills paper. They're now deemed inappropriate, which has long been the case for actual difficult problems.