Individual Study: Statistical Mechanics


Winter 2016 and Spring 2016 quarters

Taught by

physics, biomedical engineering, optical imaging and microscopy

Prerequisites

One year of introductory calculus (including both differential and integral calculus, including multiple integrals), and one year of calculus-based physics or chemistry (including introductory modern physics).

This is an opportunity for intermediate- to advanced-level students to be introduced to one of the crowning achievements of physics and physical chemistry: the ability to make fundamental and extremely general predictions about the behavior of large numbers of particles. The statistical nature of the conclusions helped lay the groundwork for the similar (but even more profound) statistical interpretation underlying quantum mechanics, and the predictions of the theory regarding the spectrum of light from hot objects (black-body radiation) is in fact what led Planck to first introduce the quantum hypothesis.

Students will start with an introduction to the required math: probability theory, primarily the binomial distribution and its special cases, the Poisson and Gaussian distributions. These—combined with surprisingly few physical hypotheses—lead directly to remarkable quantitative results. For example, statistical mechanics leads in physics to the nature of diffusion, the spectrum of black-body radiation (e.g., the cosmic microwave background), the behavior of semiconductors (solar cells and computer chips), and white dwarf stars; in chemistry to the law of mass action for chemical equilibria, the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution for molecular velocities, and the Arrhenius equation for the rates of chemical and biochemical reactions; and in biology to the chemotaxis of bacteria, transduction of nerve impulses (Nernst equation), and functioning of biochemical techniques such as ultracentrifugation and gel electrophoresis. Underlying it all is the remarkable Boltzmann distribution, also known as the Gibbs distribution and Arrhenius factor.

The material will be challenging, but the results in terms of understanding of the physical world extraordinarily exciting. The material is fundamental to the fields of physics, chemistry, and parts of biochemistry and molecular biology; a major goal is to help prepare students for advanced study in those disciplines. Due to the fundamental importance of this material to physical chemistry, there is a significant likelihood that this offering will be combined with Atoms, Molecules, and Reactions, also offered in 2015-16.

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

physics, astronomy, chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics, engineering, biology, and math and science education.

Location and Schedule

Campus location

Olympia

Schedule

Offered during: Day and Evening

Books

Buy books for this program through The Greener Store.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Upper Division Science Credit

Students will receive up to 4 units of upper-division science credit for each quarter successfully completed.

May be offered again in

The may be offered again in 2017/18.

Registration Information

Credits: Variable Credit Options

Variable Credit Options

Contact the faculty for more information; due to the fundamental importance of this material to physical chemistry, there is a significant likelihood that this contract will instead be offered as a variable credit option in Atoms, Molecules, and Reactions (also offered in 2015/16).

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior

Maximum enrollment: 25

Winter

Signature Required

To enroll, students must develop an Individual Learning Contract in consultation with the faculty member.

Course Reference Number not yet available.

Spring

Accepting New Students

Signature Required

To enroll, students must develop an Individual Learning Contract in consultation with the faculty member.

Course Reference Number not yet available.

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