• Offered by Research School of Physics
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Physics
  • Areas of interest Astronomy and Astrophysics, Chemistry, Materials Science, Physics
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Prof Adrian Sheppard
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in First Semester 2023
    See Future Offerings

Thermal physics deals with collections of large numbers of individual particles such as the air in a balloon, water in a lake, electrons in a chunk of metal and photons emitted from the sun. Many properties of these collections are independent of atomic details: examples are the direction of heat flow, that liquids more readily boil at lower pressure, and that the maximum efficiency of an engine depends upon temperature range and not the working fluid and the set of principles that govern these generic properties is referred to as classical thermodynamics. Other properties do depend upon atomic details - the framework by which we relate the quantum behaviour of one individual particle and to properties of a collection of large number of these particles is referred to as statistical mechanics. From understanding the greenhouse effect to the blackbody radiation left over from the Big Bang, no other physical theory is used more widely through out science than thermal physics.

This course provides an introduction to classical thermodynamics, with applications in materials science & engineering and earth science, as well as statistical thermodynamics, with applications in solid state physics and astrophysics.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Identify and describe the statistical nature of concepts and laws in thermodynamics, in particular: entropy, temperature, chemical potential, free energies, partition functions.
  2. Use the statistical physics methods, such as Boltzmann distribution, Gibbs distribution, Fermi-Dirac and Bose-Einstein distributions to solve problems in some physical systems.
  3. Apply the concepts and principles of black-body radiation to analyze radiation phenomena in thermodynamic systems.
  4. Apply the concepts and laws of thermodynamics to solve problems in thermodynamic systems such as gases, heat engines and refrigerators etc.
  5. Analyze phase equilibrium condition and identify types of phase transitions of physical systems.
  6. Make connections between applications of general statistical theory in various branches of physics.
  7. Design, set up, and carry out experiments; analyse data recognising and accounting for errors; and compare with theoretical predictions.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Weekly homework and/or quizzes. (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  2. An extended research assignment resulting in a report (via paper or video) (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  3. Laboratory work (20) [LO 2,3,4,7]
  4. Mid-Semester Exam (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  5. Final exam (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]

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The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Face-to face component which may consist of 1 x 3 hour lab session plus 2 x 2 hour workshops per week throughout the semester.
  • Approximately 46 hours of self-study which will include preparation for lectures, presentations and other assessment tasks.

Inherent Requirements

To be determined

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed PHYS1101 and PHYS1201 and either MATH1013 or MATH1014 or MATH1115 or MATH1116.

Prescribed Texts

An Introduction to Thermal Physics, Daniel V Schroeder. Published by Addison Wesley Longman, 2000.

Assumed Knowledge

It is desirable that students take MATH2305 simultaneously with PHYS2020, unless they have previously taken MATH2305 or MATH2405, but it is not a course requirement.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2023 $4320
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2023 $6180
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3942 20 Feb 2023 27 Feb 2023 31 Mar 2023 26 May 2023 In Person View

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