Statistical Physics

Instructor: Prof. Kirill Belashchenko

Prerequisites: PHYS 911 and 916, or permission.

Content summary: This course starts with phenomenological thermodynamics and then covers the basic principles and applications of statistical physics, including ensemble theory, classical and quantum ideal gases, magnetic systems, and phase transitions.

Textbooks: E. Fermi, Thermodynamics (Dover paperback); H. Gould and J. Tobochnik, Thermal and Statistical Physics (download at

Additional sources: There are many good books on statistical physics. Here are a few suggestions:

R. K. Pathria and P. D. Beale, Statistical Mechanics (3rd edition)
F. Reif, Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics
L. D. Landau and E. M. Lifshitz, Statistical Physics
K. Huang, Statistical Mechanics

Format: It is expected that this class will be taught primarily in the flipped-classroom format, in which students learn through a combination of pre-class assignments (such as video lectures and reading from a textbook), working on tutorials in small groups, and problem solving. The format may vary because instructional materials will be developed as the semester progresses.

Pre-class assignments will include video lectures assigned through Canvas. You must carefully watch them at your convenience before the deadline specified in Canvas (typically before the class meets on a certain day). You are encouraged to adjust the playback speed to fit your preference; I suggest starting at 1.5x. Either while or after watching a video, you will need to answer a few graded questions that may be either embedded in the video or assigned separately as a quiz in Canvas. Videos will remain available throughout the semester, and you can return to them at any time. Pre-class assignments may also include reading from a textbook followed by an online quiz. Make a note of the questions that you have about the pre-class assignments and plan to ask them in class or under the Discussions tab in Canvas.

Tutorials: A large portion of the time in class will be used for working on tutorials. Each tutorial will include a number of action items aiming at conceptual development of a topic. Students are encouraged to work on tutorials in groups of 2 or 3, but each student should complete and submit the tutorial in writing individually, acknowledging help received from other students. Tutorials are learning instruments rather than tests; if unsure how to proceed, ask the instructor for a hint or clarification.

Problem sets: In addition to tutorials, problem sets will be assigned from time to time. Most problems are worth 10 points, but some more difficult problems may be worth more. The solutions should clearly explain all the important steps. You may discuss ideas and approaches with other students after you have spent some time thinking about these problems. However, you are required to complete all the technical steps yourself. You are not allowed to copy the work of others or use problem solutions obtained from any source. If you have benefited from discussions with others, you must acknowledge them.

How to submit: Tutorials and problem sets should be submitted in class or placed in the instructor’s mailbox (request a time stamp from a staff member in the latter case). Please do not slide them under office doors. Occasional late homework submissions will be accepted, but they may lose a percentage of points unless excused (typically 5-25% for delays of up to 2 weeks). Homework is graded by a teaching assistant. If you believe your grade to be incorrect, you may appeal it to the instructor within two weeks. It is your responsibility to understand your mistakes and learn the correct solutions. If in doubt, always ask for a clarification.

In-class quick tests may occasionally offer short problems or conceptual questions based on recent coursework. They may or may not be announced beforehand.

There will be two midterm exams in the middle and a comprehensive two-hour final exam at the end of the semester. The midterm exams will take place during regular class slots, tentatively on the week of September 30 and on the week of November 4. Unless expressly stated otherwise, it is not allowed to use any books, notes, or other materials on the exams.

Missed tests: You must notify the instructor if you expect to miss a class for a legitimate reason (illness, family emergency, or job-related absence such as attending a conference; be prepared to provide supporting documentation). A minor test missed for such reasons may be dropped from your grade. If you miss a midterm or the final exam for any reason, you will normally not be able to obtain a passing grade for the course.

Grading: Your total score will be compounded as follows (subject to change depending on the actual schedule of assignments):

Pre-class assignments 7%
Tutorials and problem sets 26%
Midterm exams 32%
Final exam 35%

The scores for all assignments will be posted in Canvas. Total scores for all students may be scaled, at instructor’s discretion. Based on the total score, the final grades will be determined as follows: A+ [92-100], A [88-92], A- [85-88], B+ [82-85], B [78-82], B- [74-78], C+ [70-74], C [65-70], C- [60-65], D+ [55-60], D [50-55].

Instructor replacements: Classes may occasionally be taught by replacement instructors.

Changes: This syllabus represents a reasonably accurate outline of the course. If significant deviations from it are required, they will be announced in class and through Canvas.

Academic integrity: Students are expected to understand and adhere to the principles of academic integrity, which are explained in the Student Code of Conduct and in this statement.

Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the instructor for a confidential discussion of their individual needs for academic accommodation. It is the policy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to provide flexible and individualized accommodation to students with documented disabilities that may affect their ability to fully participate in course activities or to meet course requirements. To receive accommodation services, students must be registered with the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office, 132 Canfield Administration, 472-3787 voice or TTY.