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PHYS 224 A: Thermal Physics

Meeting Time: 
MWF 9:30am - 10:20am
PAA A118
Marjorie Olmstead

Syllabus Description:

Physics 224:  Thermal Physics

MWF 9:30 – 10:20 am  PAA A118

Prof. Marjorie Olmstead, UW Physics  (Office PAB B433; 685-3031;

Office Hours 11:15-12:15 on Monday and Thursday

Course Coverage:

This class covers Introductory Thermal Physics from both a macroscopic (thermodynamic) and microscopic (statistical) viewpoint.  It covers a wide range of topics, including such practical items as how long it takes to boil a pot of water or how your refrigerator works (at least in theory), some things that don't seem so practical, such as how fast a typical air molecule is moving, and some things you may have wondered about, such as why Seattle's climate is much milder than Minneapolis or why it is colder in the mountains than down at sea level.  Detailed topics may be found on the Daily Schedule.


This class will make extensive use of key topics from Physics 121, especially work and energy.  While we will make only passive use of electricity and magnetism, concepts such as flux from Phys 122 will be useful, and we will use the concept of a particle in a box from quantum physics.  We will actively use calculus, including partial derivatives.  Many of you will have seen / will see an introduction to thermal physics and fluids at the end of Physics 123.  Since that change to Phys 123 only occurred last spring, and Phys 123 is not currently a prerequisite for this class, that material will not be assumed.  We will approach the material in a different way, so hopefully it will be interesting and reinforcing for those of you who have seen it in Phys 123.


An Introduction to Thermal Physics, by Daniel Schroeder

We will cover most of the first 4 chapters and elements of the 5th and 6th chapters.  The remaining material in the text is covered in Phys 328, so keep your books as a reference after the quarter is over.  Since no text ever completely matches your learning style, feel free to browse other books for different approaches to the same material.  Prof. Olmstead has a collection in her office.  A good complement to Schroeder is the text by Tom Moore, Six Ideas that Shaped Physics, Unit T.

The book is set up with problems at the end of each section.  Look them over when you do the daily reading so you know what to be on the watch for in class.  To do well on an exam, you need to be able to do problems with the book closed after not looking at it for a few hours.  Practice doing this in your studying.  


Homework will be assigned weekly, with solutions posted on Fridays, based on material covered through the previous Monday.  Homework will not be graded or turned in.  This means you must study the posted solutions and compare them to your own understanding.  Please let Prof. Olmstead know about errors and/or unclear elements in the posted solutions.   While the HW will not explicitly count towards your grade, you are expected to complete and understand these problems - HW problems and/or problems like them will appear on exams.  There will also be Poll Everywhere questions in class based on the homework.  It is strongly recommended that you keep a notebook for your homework, for example a graph-paper composition book.

Homework in Phys 224 is different from that in your previous physics classes.  In a few problems each week you will be learning new concepts with your homework that are not explicitly detailed in the book or in lecture.  Rather, you will be developing a vital skill -- that of extrapolating from current knowledge to a new situation.  You are highly encouraged to work together.  This is most useful in the "middle" of your homework week, after you have looked over the problems yourself and before you finalize your solutions.  Look for similar optional problems and try to apply the same methods; bounce ideas off of your peers; draw diagrams, define symbols, and obtain symbolic solutions before plugging in numbers; understand the reason for each major step; check for dimensional correctness and reasonable numerical magnitude.  


There will be 2 midterm examinations and a comprehensive final exam.  The midterms will be in class on Monday, Oct 23 and Friday, November 17.  The final exam will be 8:30 am on Wed Dec 13.  It will emphasize material covered since the 2nd midterm, but will also include material from earlier in the quarter.  Information about upcoming exams will be posted here.

Requests for regrades must be submitted to Prof. Olmstead no later than the beginning of the lecture following when exams are first returned in class.  You must write a brief note on the front page or attached to the front page of the exam explaining the possible error in the grading.  The entire examination should be returned, and we reserve the right to regrade the entire exam and not just the requested page.  Do not make any changes or marks on the other pages of the examination.


You are expected to read the relevant section(s) of the book BEFORE class.  The reading is posted on the Daily Schedule.  Lectures will NOT cover everything in the book for which you are responsible:  you are expected to read and learn simple concepts on your own, and often details of a derivation will be left for homework.  Lectures will, however, frequently include various demonstration experiments, which will provide information and insights into the materials that are not available elsewhere, and which could form the basis for test questions.  They will also often include student response with a web-enabled device through Poll Everywhere.  After you have done the reading, fill out the daily OLO (online learning opportunity -- see below) with comments and questions.  

Lecture notes and/or any powerpoint slides used will be posted after class on the Daily Schedule page (also available in Files), but they are intended primarily as a guide and not a reference.

In Class Response System:

We will use "Poll Everywhere" software for in-class responses.  It requires either a web-enabled device (phone, tablet or laptop) or the ability to send a text.  If you do not have such a device, they can be checked out for the quarter through the UW Student Technology Loan Program (

Online Learning Opportunities:

There will be an Online Learning Opportunity (OLO) due through Canvas at 8:00 am before each lecture.  It will include four questions:  what is the most important concept in that day's reading; what should Prof. Olmstead skip or spend time on in that day's reading; what is still unclear from the previous lecture and/or needed for this week's homework, and an order of magnitude estimate of something relevant to that day's reading and/or lecture.  Prof. Olmstead will read as many as she can between 8:00 and 8:45 and incorporate the input into that day's lecture.  The teaching assistants will grade them and provide feedback where appropriate.

The two primary purposes of OLOs are 1) to help guide Prof. Olmstead's lecturing about what is/is not covered well in the text and 2) to help you learn the material by being prepared for class.   Full credit is given for a thoughtful response that provides evidence you have read the material and solid reasoning behind your order-of-magnitude response. 

Classroom Rules and Courtesies

We have over 150 students in this class, and that requires a few common sense rules to help everyone learn.

  • Please wait for the 8:30 class to leave before you try to enter the room.
  • Please fill in to the center of the seat rows -- on average only 1-2 seats per row should be empty, and we want to avoid having late-arriving students having to climb over you and/or sit in the aisles.
  • Please avoid wearing intense fragrances.  There is at least one student who is very sensitive to perfumes and likely others in a class this size who haven't yet contacted me.
  • Please do not talk with each other during class unless we have explicitly taken a break for you to work on problems and/or discuss things with your neighbor.  Noise carries well in this room, so your whispers in the back can make it difficult for students in a wide circle around you to concentrate on the class.
  • Computers are fine for taking notes on during class, and some sort of web-enabled device (smartphone, tablet, computer) will be needed for "clicker" questions.  However, please refrain from doing non-class-related work, email, browsing, etc., during lecture as it can be very distracting to those students sitting behind you.
  • If you know you will need to leave class early, please choose a seat near the aisle in the back of the room.

Office Hours:

Office hours are in PAB B433 11:15-12:15 on Monday and Thursday.  You are also welcome to stop by with brief questions or make an appointment at other times, although I can't guarantee I'll be free if you don't first make an appt.  I will also have Physics Major Undergraduate Faculty Advisor office hours in the main department office, and am happy to talk with you about Phys 224 if there are no students with advising issues.  


Healthy students are expected to attend class and ask their questions in person.  The number of students who get ill this quarter can be significantly reduced by proper hygiene (by all) and self-imposed quarantine (by those who are sick).  If you are sick (coughing, sneezing, feverish), please be considerate of your fellow students (and your professor) and keep your germs at home.  Lecture notes will be posted on Canvas, and you can email Prof. Olmstead with your questions.  If you are sick for a midterm, please call or email Prof. Olmstead BEFORE the exam.  One of the quickest ways to get on Prof. Olmstead's bad side is to come to her office saying "I was too sick [cough, cough] to come to class [cough,cough].  What did I miss? [cough, cough]" -- please call or send email instead when you are sick.  You can get a flu shot at Hall Health, as well as access many other mental and physical health services.


There are 28 lectures, 2 midterm exams and a final exam. For each lecture, there is an OLO, plus frequently there will be one or more Poll Everywhere questions.  Poll Everywhere questions on material presented in that days lecture are graded on completion only, while those that are spot-checks on whether students are keeping up with the homework have an additional point for being correct.  The OLO/PE will be calculated as though there are 25 lectures (i.e., you can miss 3 without penalty).

There are 5 units for calculating your grade:  OLO/PE, MT1, MT2, half of final, half of final.  Your grade will be based on the best four of these.  Thus, if you do not participate with OLO/Poll Everywhere, then your grade is based solely on your exams -- two midterms (25% each) and the final exam (50%).  If your OLO/PE grade is higher than one of your exams (e.g., you decide to skip one midterm, or do poorly on one), it will replace that exam score (either midterm, or half the final).


Please don't even think about cheating.  It is a real pain for the professor to have to write letters to the dean to report cheating, but she has done it before and will do it again.  Your decision whether or not to pursue a technical career should neither be hastened by the abnormally low grade obtained if you are caught nor postponed by the uncharacteristically high grade you might obtain if you are not.


Any student who wishes to request academic accommodations should contact Prof. Olmstead during the first week of classes so that she can make appropriate arrangements.       

If you have already established accommodations from Disability Resources for Students, DRS usually emails the instructor with details, but you should check to make sure the correct information was transferred and arrange your accommodations with Prof. Olmstead.  If you will not be taking exams with the rest of the class, send a reminder email to Prof. Olmstead one week before each exam to arrange the time and place for your exam.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS.  It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

If you are a student athlete or musician, and need accommodations for your practice and play or performance schedule, please contact Prof. Olmstead within the first week of classes, and bring a letter from your coach or conductor.

If you have other essential conflicts (e.g., presenting at a research conference, job interview, etc.), please make arrangements with Prof. Olmstead well before the expected conflict.  If you miss an exam for a non-essential conflict (e.g., you oversleep or have personal travel) then you will be expected to replace that grade with your OLO/PE score.

Safe  Campus

Preventing violence is a shared responsibility in which everyone at the UW plays a part. The SafeCampus website provides information on counseling and safety resources, University policies, and violence reporting requirements that help us maintain a safe personal, work, and learning environment.  For advice and resources, or to report a threat or concerning behavior, call 206-685-SAFE (7233).

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities which receive Federal financial assistance. Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence or sexual assault, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Retaliation against those who raise complaints or participate in the complaint investigation and resolution process is also prohibited. The following person has been designated to coordinate the University’s compliance with Title IX :

Kate Leonard, Title IX/ADA Coordinator

Box 354996

Phone: (206) 221-7932



Catalog Description: 
Introduces heat, thermodynamics, elementary kinetic theory, and statistical physics. Prerequisite: Either MATH 126 or MATH 136; PHYS 123 Offered: ASpS.
GE Requirements: 
Natural World (NW)
Section Type: 
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:09pm