MATE 350, Materials Thermodynamics, 3 cr, 3 cl hrs

(Crosslisted with ChE 349)

Prerequisites: MATH 231, CHEM 121, PHYS 121. (ES 347 is recommended.)

Course Description: The mathematical structure of thermodynamics is developed and elucidated from a transport-processbased perspective. Basic quantities such as heat and temperature are carefully defined. The conserved nature of the First-Law and the non-conserved nature of the Second Law are emphasized. The consequences of the ensuing stability-conditions are explored in the area of phase equilibrium in multicomponent mixtures.

Required Textbooks: A Short Course in Thermodynamics + Exercises for a Short Course in Thermodynamics  by J. McCoy

Recommended Textbooks: Stanley Sandler, Chemical and Engineering Thermodynamics (any edition)


There is, perhaps, no scientific inquiry more full of human interest than the study of the nature of heat, and the manner in which matter in general is affected by it. No branch of physical science is so intimately connected with the everyday occupations of life, and, consequently, none of them interests mankind more closely.

The influence of heat is manifestly so universal, and its actions so important and necessary to the progress of all the operations of nature, that, to those who first considered it with some attention, it must have at once appeared to be the general principle of all life and activity on this globe. With its return in springtime the bud breaks into blossom, and new life animates the vegetable kingdom. By its agency the incubation of the egg progresses, a living thing is brought into the world, and heat is still necessary to its support. Finally, to the power which man has acquired over it is due that supernatural strength which has made him superior to all other animals, and master of land and sea.

It is not surprising, therefore, that an agent at once so powerful and so serviceable, so beneficent and yet sometimes so terrible, should have become a subject of adoration and worship among the inhabitants of the earth.
-Thomas Preston-The Theory of Heat (1894)

Why has statistical mechanics not completely replaced thermodynamics? Statistical mechanics bases explanations on atoms while thermodynamics for any non-ideal gas requires “curve-fit” parameters like those in the van der Waals EOS. Unfortunately, simply adopting a belief in atoms does not tie up all the loose ends. The interactions between the atoms must be described mathematically, and this requires a complicated curve fit procedure at the atomic level. Of course, these interactions can be explained at an even more basic level with quantum mechanics. Each step to a more fundamental understanding entails the introduction of new non-observables and of new mathematical complications. Thermodynamics retains a place of supreme importance because it can be developed without reference to atoms and their interactions. Thermodynamics remains relevant to modern physics because it provides a solid touchstone for statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and other modern theories. ​

Course Topics