• 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 2024
    See Future Offerings
  • STEM Course

Thermal physics deals with large numbers of particles, anything big enough to see with a conventional microscope. From understanding the greenhouse effect to the blackbody radiation left over from the Big Bang, no other physical theory is used more widely throughout science.

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.

The course begins with classical thermodynamics to introduce the fundamental concepts of temperature, energy, and heat. It then moves to statistical mechanics in which the laws of statistics are used to predict the behaviour of ensembles of particles through the concept of entropy. These concepts are then used within thermodynamics to explore free energies, and understand heat engines, refrigerators and phase transformations and fuel cells. The course then returns to statistical physics to where Boltzmann and Gibbs factors and partition functions are applied to both classical and quantum systems, including blackbody radiation and Fermi gases.

HPO is available for this course and will be worth 15% of the overall mark. Students can opt in to the HPO via the course Wattle page by Friday week 2. Students who do not submit HPO assessment or score lower in the HPO assessment, are considered to have opted out. See "other information section" for details.

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. Apply 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 laws of thermodynamics to solve problems in thermodynamic systems such as gases, heat engines, fuel cells and refrigerators.
  4. Analyze phase equilibrium condition and identify types of phase transitions of physical systems.
  5. Make connections between applications of general statistical theory in various branches of physics.
  6. Design, set up, and carry out experiments; analyse data recognising and accounting for errors; and compare with theoretical predictions.

Other Information

HPO: The Honours Pathway Option will involve working through a common set of quiz problems that extend the material. A set of quiz questions will be made available roughly fortnightly. Each set of questions starts with easy questions, but the questions increase in difficulty towards the end. HPO is 15% of your final grade, and will amount to be around an extra 15 hours of work across the teaching period, the remaining assessment will be weighted at 85%. Students undertaking the HPO will engage particularly with Learning Outcomes 2 and 3.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Weekly quizzes (5) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  2. weekly problem sheets. (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  3. Extended self-directed project, experimental or simulation-based, presented in a written or video report. (20) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  4. Laboratory work (15) [LO 2,3,4,6]
  5. Mid-Semester exam (15) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  6. Final exam (25) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


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 70 hours of self-directed study which will include preparation for lectures, presentations and other assessment tasks.

Inherent Requirements

No specific inherent requirements have been identified for this course.

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
2024 $4440
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2024 $6360
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
3748 19 Feb 2024 26 Feb 2024 05 Apr 2024 24 May 2024 In Person View

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions