Chem 444 (Physical Chemistry II): Statistical/Molecular Thermodynamics, Fall 2019

Course Webpage:

Lectures: MWF, 10-10.50 am, Noyes 165, Dates: Aug 26 to Dec 11

Course Objectives:

- To encourage thinking of chemical and physical processes in the language of microscopic states, stochastics, correlations, dynamics, and fluctuations (achieved through lectures and notes).

- To apply the machinery of statistical mechanics to common problems in physical chemistry, solid-state physics, and materials science (examples in problem sets).

- To appreciate the utility of this problem-solving ability to cutting edge problems of current interest (achieved through individual literature project).

Instructor: Prashant K. Jain, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Contact Info: Office: CLSL A224, Email:, Tel: (217) 333-3417, Web:

Office hours: Fridays 2-4 pm in CLSL A224 (discussion of lectures, notes, problem sets, and exams)

No lecture: Sep 2 (Labor day), Nov 25-29 (Thanksgiving break)

Teaching Assistant: Jaeyoung Heo, 5th year PhD student in Prof. Jain’s lab (Email:, Office: A206 CLSL). All homeworks and exams will be graded by Jaeyoung in consultation with Prof. Jain.

Syllabus (Advanced topics, i.e., Chapters 5-7 will not be covered and are listed only for ambitious students)

1) The language of probabilities and microstates

2) Thermodynamic quantities, free energies, equilibrium and stability

3) The method of ensembles and partition functions

4) Ideal non-interacting systems: Quantum and classical statistics of indistinguishable particles: bosons and fermions, application to electrons in metals, phonons in crystals, photons, monoatomic and diatomic gases

5) Non-ideality: Introduction to inter-molecular forces

6) Theory of liquids and the Monte-Carlo method

7) Introduction to chemical kinetics and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics: fluctuations, time-correlations, ergodicity, transition states.

Exams and Grading:

Problem sets (15%): Approximately five over semester; posted via Compass; submit in paper form on due date indicated to Jaeyoung Heo (Office: A206 CLSL). Submissions late by two days or less will be graded but only 50% of the points earned will be awarded.

Mid-term Exam 1 (15%): Oct 16 in class. You may bring a calculator and one sheet of paper with concepts, equations, formulae, constants. 

Mid-term Exam 2 (20%): Nov 15 in class. You may bring a calculator and one sheet of paper with concepts, equations, formulae, constants. 

Literature Project (20%): Form a group (4-5 students) by mid-Oct, chosen paper/topic due by mid-Nov, group presentations (chalk talk) on Dec 6, 9, and 11.

Final Exam: (30%): Dec 13, 7-10 pm, Noyes 165, you may bring a calculator and one sheet of paper with concepts, equations, formulae, constants. A final exam review will be conducted by TA on Dec 4.

Text and Materials

-No required textbook.

-All course notes are provided on Compass in two formats: handwritten (.pdf) and typewritten (.docx). Handwritten course notes can also be downloaded from:

-Recommended texts (not required at all if you attend lectures): Statistical Thermodynamics by McQuarrie; Atkins' Physical Chemistry: Quanta, Matter, and Change; Introduction to Modern Statistical Mechanics by David Chandler.  

-Useful resource:

Possible topics for literature project

-Thermodynamics of life (see What is Life? Book by Schrodinger; you may borrow the book from Prof. Jain)

-Molecular economics and analogies with molecular thermodynamics.

-Thermodynamics of the Ising spin model

-Entropy and free energy in photosynthesis

-Supercooled water (recall demonstration video from lectures).

-Unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in thermodynamics: see Wigner’s paper:


Sample papers/papers chosen by former students

-Reversible unfolding of single RNA molecules by mechanical force, Science, 292, 733 (2001)

-Probing the catalytic activity and heterogeneity of Au-nanoparticles at the single-molecule level, PCCP, 11, 2767 (2009)

-BEC of photon gas, Nature, 468, 545 (2010)

-Life as a manifestation of thermodynamics and the second law of thermodynamics, Mathematical and Computer Modelling, 19, 25 (1994)

-Casimir force and vacuum fluctuations, Nature, 246, 396 (1973)


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