PHYSICS 215 – Thermodynamics and Modern Physics

Spring 2012

Prof. Norman Birge

Office:  4224 BPS, 884-5653      e-mail:

Check ANGEL for homework assignments

Course Information


PHY 184, 184B, 294H, 234B, or LB 272.  MTH 234, 254H, or LB 220.

Office Hours:

Tu: 5:00 – 6:00pm, W: 4:00-5:00pm, and by appointment 


M-Th, 9:10-10:00am, Room 1415 BPS

Required Texts:

1. Thermal physics chapters from any introductory physics textbook.  If you do not own such a book, you can purchase the relevant chapters of Bauer & Westfall in either paperback or e-book format, from McGraw Hill.

2. It’s About Time, N. David Mermin.

3. Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Thornton & Rex, 3rd Ed.


Homework will be due at the beginning of class on Wednesdays.  We will devote part of Wednesday's class to a workshop day, where you will work together on the homework in randomly-assigned groups.  You can then turn in a revised copy of your homework on Thursday, but you will get credit only for problems on which you made a serious attempt at on the copy you turned in on Wednesday.  You are welcome to consult with your peers when doing your homework, but you are responsible for completing the problems yourself.  Copying somebody else's homework is not acceptable.


To be announced (office hours by appointment)


There will be six quizzes and a final exam.  Your lowest quiz score will be dropped.  The dates for the quizzes are tentatively Feb. 1, Feb. 16, March 1, March 22, April 5, and April 19.  The final exam is Friday, May 4 at 7:45am. All exams are closed book.  The final exam will be cumulative.


Homework      25%      Max. grade cut-offs:  >92%  4.0      >68%  2.0

Quizzes           50%                                        >86%  3.5      >62%  1.5    

Final Exam      25%                                        >80%  3.0      >56%  1.0

                                                                      >74%  2.5      <56%  0.0

These grade cut-offs may be lowered, but they won't be raised.


Plan to spend about 12 hours per week on PHY 215:  4 hours in lecture and 8 hours reading and doing the homework.

Course Outline:

We will cover basic thermodynamics, special relativity, and the basic ideas of quantum mechanics applied to atomic physics.  If we have time, we may touch on other topics of modern physics.