PHS2061 - Quantum and thermal physics - 2019

6 points, SCA Band 2, 0.125 EFTSL

Undergraduate - Unit

Refer to the specific census and withdrawal dates for the semester(s) in which this unit is offered.



Organisational Unit

School of Physics and Astronomy

Chief examiner(s)

Dr Scott Findlay


Dr Scott Findlay (unit coordinator)
Dr Istvan Laszlo (computational workshop coordinator)

Unit guides



  • First semester 2019 (On-campus)


One unit from PHS1022, PHS1002

and one unit from MTH1030, MTH1035 or ENG1005


Recommended: MTH2010 or MTH2015 or ENG2005

Note: supporting mathematics studies are required for progression towards the Astrophysics and Physics majors




Quantum physics is at the core of physics and this unit provides a basis for understanding key quantum concepts, applications and associated phenomena. Thermal physics aims to understand how energy resides in matter as thermal energy, how energy moves irreversibly as heat between bodies at different temperatures, and how heat flow arises from entropy and the second law of thermodynamics; entropy is defined carefully in terms of the multiplicity of microstates of a system. Thermal physics explores how work can be interconverted with thermal energy and how entropy limits the efficiency of engines, heat pumps and refrigerators.

  1. Quantum Mechanics: the domain of quantum mechanics; particle and wave description; the Schrodinger equation, energy, momentum and angular momentum as operators, expectation values and stationary states; one-dimensional scattering and potentials, including the quantum oscillator, quantum mechanical tunnelling and quantum technologies; Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the hydrogen atom; the Pauli exclusion principle and the periodic table; entanglement and Bell's theorem; introduction to quantum information.
  2. Thermal Physics: review of heat, work and internal (thermal) energy, phase transitions, latent heats and heat capacities; the inadequacy of heat capacities as a basis for thermometry; statistical descriptions of a macroscopic physical system: microstates, macrostates, multiplicity and entropy; the second law of thermodynamics; absolute temperature related to entropy; pressure related to entropy; review of PV diagrams and work in thermodynamics, especially as applied to ideal gases; adiabatic and isothermal processes; introduction to engines and the Carnot cycle; examples of thermodynamic cycles in applications; heat pumps and refrigerators; the Helmholtz free energy and an introduction to the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, the exponential atmosphere and Boltzmann factors; inter alia Maxwell's daemon, the thermodynamics of computation and the heat death of the Universe.


On completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Describe and perform calculations appropriate to key concepts in quantum mechanics, including the foundations of quantum mechanics and a wide variety of quantum systems in 1D, 2D and 3D;
  2. Describe and perform calculations related to thermal physics and statistical thermodynamics, including a foundational understanding of temperature, energy, heat and work, and its applications to heat pumps and engines, entropy and information;
  3. Apply numerical modelling to solve problems in quantum mechanics and thermal physics;
  4. Demonstrate awareness of scientific computing methods and visualization;
  5. Acquire, manipulate and interpret physical data and write scientific reports at a level suitable for publication.


Examination (3 hours): 40%

Assignments, quizzes and computational workshops: 30%

Laboratory work: 30% (Hurdle)

Hurdle requirement: Students must achieve a pass mark in the laboratory work to achieve an overall pass grade.

Workload requirements

The workload to achieve the learning outcomes for this unit is 144 hours spread across the semester (roughly 12 hours per week) - approximately an even mixture of attendance at scheduled activities and self-scheduled study time. Learning activities comprise a mixture of instructor-directed, peer-directed and self-directed learning, which includes face-to-face and online engagement.

See also Unit timetable information

This unit applies to the following area(s) of study