PY722 :: Statistical Physics II :: Fluctuations & Phase Transitions

Fall 2012

Mo/We, 10:15 to 11:30, G100 Harrelson
Occasionally, classes will meet on Friday instead. Please keep this time clear.

Instructor: Karen Daniels, 258C Riddick, 919-513-7921, kdaniel@

Office hours: after class, Tuesday 3-4pm, or by appointment


Prerequisite: Familiarity with the laws of thermodynamics, kinetic theory of gases, entropy, free energy, and ensembles, such as provided by PY721.


Course format: Upper-level graduate course with emphasis on current, inter-disciplinary applications and experiments, using both computational and analytic techniques.

Primary Text: James Sethna, Statistical Mechanics: Entropy, Order Parameters, and Complexity. [Online Version]

Supplemental Texts: Readings from Chandler, Introduction to Statistical Mechanics; Chaikin & Lubensky, Principles of Condensed Matter Physics.; Widom, Statistical Mechanics ; Newman, Introduction to Networks; and current scientific literature are posted at Hill Library Reserves

Reading Assignments: You should read through the assigned chapters or papers prior to class, in enough detail to be able to answer questions of the following type: What were the key concepts introduced? What types of physical systems do the techniques in the reading apply to? What parts were difficult to understand?

Problem Sets: Detailed problem sets containing both analytical and computational problems are fundamental to learning the material in this class, will form the bulk of your grade, and will be assigned approximately biweekly. You will need to have access to a computer running Python for some of the computational exercises: see here for more information. For some problems, you may also find it helpful to use Matlab and/or Mathematica.

The problem sets will be due Fridays at noon on the date listed, unless otherwise specified. Email submissions are permitted, but please use a single PDF file. Late assignments will lose 10% for each day late. Students are encouraged to work together, but each of you must present your own work and list who you worked with on each problem so as to give credit where it is due. Problem sets will be graded for both effort and accuracy. For computer exercises, you do not need to submit your .py code unless you have some reason you want me to look at it. Responses to text-based questions need to be in well-structured, complete sentences. Solutions to the problem sets will be posted in a binder in the Grad Student Lounge. (added 3 Oct) The problem sets should take 8-10 hours per week to complete. The instructor welcomes information which aids in this calibration.

Blogging Assignments: Student will contribue to a shared blog which will serve as a journal club of current literature related to class topics. Blog assignments must be posted by Fridays at noon on the date listed. For each biweekly assignment, you will create a blog entry which:

(added 3 Oct) You should spend approximately 60-90 minutes finding and reading your entry, and about 30-60 minutes looking over your classmates' submissions. Entries will be graded on a 0 to 2 scale where 0 = missing, 1 = minimally present or late, 2 = acceptable. Extra points may be awarded for outstandingly insightful entries. In addition, you will post at least one comment on a classmate's entry from the previous week (worth 1 additional point). We will take some time on Wednesdays following the due date to have a discussion about some of the issues raised by your postings.

Midterm exam: a take-home exam will be due on Friday, Oct 12 at noon.

Final paper: review-type paper and in-class presentation on a current application of a statistical physics topic. Examples from Fall 2009. Due Fri, Dec 7 at noon.

Grading: Your final grade will be calculated as follows: 50% problem sets, 10% blog entries, 20% take-home midterm exam, 20% final paper.

University Regulations

Honor Pledge: For all assignments, the instructor will assume that the student has upheld the NCSU Honor Pledge: "I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this test or assignment." Please refer to the Code of Student Conduct Policy for details. (added 3 Oct) Sections 8.2 and 8.4 of the above policy are particularly applicable to our problem sets and bar the use of published solutions. There are honorable ways to obtain assistance, and to credit that assistance. Violations of this code will be treated seriously.

Students with disabilities: Reasonable accommodations will be made for students with verifiable disabilities. In order to take advantage of available accommodations, students must register with Disability Services for Students at 1900 Student Health Center, Campus Box 7509, 515-7653. For more information on NC State's policy on working with students with disabilities, please see the Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities Regulation REG 02.20.01.

Course Calendar

This calendar is subject to change as the semester progresses. Some Friday make-up sessions will be scheduled at the usual class time, and are noted in red


Problems in [] might be useful for review, but are not assigned