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This is a brief introduction to the course.

The aim of this course is to cover some of the foundations of thermodynamics. It sounds like a complicated subject, but it doesn’t take too much to get into it – the theory is fairly straightforward.


The course will run over three weeks. Over each week we will cover:

  1. Ideal and non-ideal gases: how to calculate the state of a gas
  2. Energy: how to classify it, measure it, and thermodynamic quantities such as enthalpy
  3. Free energy and entropy: measures of disorder, and finding out whether a chemical reaction will happen.

Course components

The course includes videos and articles that discuss the subjects. Each video is short, with the longest only lasting 8 minutes. These discuss the theory behind the topic, and will give some examples. You won’t necessarily need to copy anything down from the videos, as the key equations you will need to know, and a brief summary, is written below.

There are some additional articles that give background on the core concepts used, and also quizzes which will test what you’ve picked up, and what you can calculate. So, yes, you may need to bring a calculator.


What often leaves students of thermodynamics overwhelmed are the sheer number of equations involved. It seems like a lot to memorise. However, the equations in this course are more like illustrations. They’re there to illustrate a concept rather than be the equation “for” something.

But, these equations will be used. And the best way to do that is to practice them. There are quizzes throughout this, which will ask you to calculate quantities.

It’s also worth looking at units, and using those to guide you.

For instance, you may “memorise” that speed is equal to distance divided by time, but the units of speed, such as “miles per hour” tell you divide miles by hours to get to it. (“per” means “divide”) If the speed is “meters per second” (m s-1), then take metres, and divide them by seconds.

Similarly, when we look at heat capacity later, we’ll find that the units are “Joules per Kelvin per gram”. To calculate a heat capacity, we need Joules (energy) and then we need to divide it by Kelvin (temperature) and divided it by grams (mass). Going the other way, if we multiply a heat capacity by Kelvin (temperature) and grams (mass) we’ll get energy back (Joules).

It won’t get more complicated than that. We will not be covering aspects of thermodynamics that require calculus (integration and differentiation) in this course.

Discussions and revision

Throughout the week’s activities there will be discussion prompts that ask open-ended questions. There are not necessarily “correct” and fixed answers to these, and the course organiser will be around to respond to comments and provide pointers.

There is a revision article with a summary of everything covered so far at the end of each week, in a condensed form.

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Introduction to Thermodynamics

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