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Last modified: 22 May 2019 17:07

Course Overview

Statistical physics derives the phenomenological laws of thermodynamics from the probabilistic treatment of the underlying microscopic system.  Statistical physics, together with quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, is a cornerstone in our modern understanding of the physical world. 

Through this course, you will gain a better understanding of fundamental physical concepts such as entropy and thermodynamic irreversibility, and you will learn how derive some simple thermodynamic properties of gases and solids.

The final part of the course is devoted to an introduction to stochastic systems, which are widely used in many different fields such as physics, biology and economics.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 4
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Francesco Ginelli

Qualification Prerequisites

  • Programme Level 4

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

  • PX4009 Solid State Physics (Studied)

Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

This course provides an introduction to statistical physics and simple stochastic processes. A brief review of thermodynamics is offered in the first lectures to set up the background needed to understand the foundations of statistical mechanics. The microcanonical and canonical ensembles are discussed in details and it is shown as thermodynamical irreversibility emerges statistically from reversible microscopic dynamics. Quantum statistics are also discussed. Applications are limited to non-interacting systems and include computing the specific heats of solids and of monoatomic and simple diatomic gases, blackbody radiation, Fermi gases and ferromagnetism. Ising magnetism is briefly discussed in mean field approximation.

In addition, the course gives an introduction to stochastic processes. We shall first discuss Brownian motion and random walks, introducing the concepts of Master and Fokker-Planck equations for one-dimensional random walks. This offers a simple context in which the central limit theorem can be introduced. Finally, we will discuss the principle of detailed balance as a necessary and sufficient condition for a system to be in thermodynamic equilibrium.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: Final examination (75%) and continuous assessment exercises (25%).

Resit: Examination (100%).

Formative Assessment

By means of class tutorials and dialogue with the lecturer.


Feedback on assessments will be given within two weeks or receipt and immediately during classroom exercises.

Course Learning Outcomes


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