Teaching of Thermodynamics

Wednesday 5 December 2012.
Institute of Physics, London

Thermodynamics is considered one of the most fundamental topics in physics, but it is also one of the most confusing. Just what, for example, is the Second Law? Is it a statement about heat engines, as proposed by Kelvin and initially Clausius, or is it something much more general about entropy changes, as Clausius later suggested? If it is the latter, what is entropy?  Is it a measure of disorder, as has been proposed in the past, or is it connected to information? Just what is the role of information theory within statistical mechanics and what is the connection with classical thermodynamics? These are questions that excite debate among even professional physicists, let alone students. So, how should we teach these subjects so that our students develop a firm foundation for further study of advanced topics such as non-extensive thermodynamics of Black Holes?

This meeting will explore ways of teaching the foundations of thermodynamics from a range of speakers who have a long standing interest in both the teaching of, and research into, the subject.

Meeting Report (PDF, 132 KB)


10:30Registration and refreshments
David Sands, University of Hull and Paul Yates, HEA
11:15Teaching Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics – to integrate or not? (PDF, 342 KB)
Prof Brian Cowan, Royal Holloway
11:45The importance of cycles in teaching thermodynamics
Dr Jeremy Dunning-Davies, IFM Einstein-Galileo
12:15Entropy in the teaching of thermal physics (PDF, 969 KB)
Prof Ian Ford, University College London
12:45Entropy and Self-Organised Criticality (PDF, 132 KB)
Prof Mick Brown, University of Cambridge
13:45Energy in the school curriculum
Charles Tracy, Institute of Physics
14:15(provisional) Biological Physics as a vehicle for teaching thermodynamic concepts
Dr Sarah Harris, University of Leeds
14:45Entropy – Is it what we think it is and how should we teach it? (PDF, 350 KB)
Dr David Sands, University of Hull
15:45Meeting close

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