Gordon Research Conferences
Meeting Details

Physics Research & Education
Gordon Research Conference

Statistical & Thermal Physics


June 11-16, 2000


Plymouth State College
Plymouth, NH


Jan Tobochnik & Harvey Gould

Vice Chair:
Beth Ann Thacker

Meeting Description

This series of conferences will focus on how research in physics and research in physics education can be used to improve the teaching of physics, primarily at the undergraduate level. The first conference will emphasize the teaching of thermal and statistical physics. Special attention will be given to areas of current research and technological interest which can be included in such courses, physics and chemistry educational research on conceptual understanding of thermal physics and probability, and innovative curricular materials and approaches. The goal is to bring together workers who are active in research in thermal and statistical physics, researchers in the new field of physics education, and people who teach courses in statistical and thermal physics.

Meeting Program

Sunday, June 11
2:00 - 11:00 pm Arrival and Registration
6:00 pm Dinner
7:30 pm - 10:00 pm Student Conceptual Difficulties in Thermodynamics
Discussion Leader: Beth Ann Thacker, Texas Tech University
  • Paula Heron, Washington State University
    “Research on student understanding of thermal physics”
  • Chris Kautz, Syracuse University
    “Identifying student difficulties with the ideal gas law”
  • Mike Loverude, California State University, Fullerton
    “Student understanding of the first law of thermodynamics”
Monday, June 12
7:30 - 8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pm Statistical and Thermal Physics in the Introductory Course
Discussion Leader: Norman Chonacky, Columbia University
  • Tom Moore, Pomona College
    “Teaching statistical physics in the introductory course: a progress report”
  • Bruce Sherwood and Ruth Chabay, Carnegie-Mellon University
    “Atoms and matter: integrating mechanics and thermal physics in the introductory course”
  • Wolfgang Christian, Davidson College
    “Programming and internet technologies for undergraduate statistical mechanics”
  • Priscilla Laws, Dickinson College
    “Combining observations of macroscopic thermal phenomena with molecular simulation analysis”
10:00 am Conference Photo session and coffee break
12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch
6:00 pm Dinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm Teaching Probability and Statistical Physics
Discussion Leader: Royce Zia, Virginia Tech
  • Giulio D'Agostini, University of Rome
    “A maieutic(al) approach to teaching probability theory.”
  • George Stell, SUNY, Stony Brook
    “Teaching thermal and statistical physics: a personal odyssey thru several departments.”
  • Peter T. Landsberg, University of Southampton
    “From probability via entropy to statistical mechanics.”
Tuesday, June 13
7:30 - 8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pm Effective Teaching Strategies
Discussion Leader: Lillian McDermott, University of Washington
  • Harvey Leff, California State Polytechnic Institute, Pomona
    “The physics of an 'empty' box: The photon gas as a teaching/learning tool.”
  • Robert Hardy, University of Nebraska
    “Why not use "ordinary" mathematics when teaching thermodynamics?”
  • Dan Schroeder, Weber State University
    “The undergraduate thermal physics course: Who should take it and why?”
  • Jeffrey Prentis, University of Michigan, Dearborn
    “Undergraduate experiments in statistical mechanics.”
10:00 am Coffee break
12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch
4:30 - 6:00 pm Poster Session
6:00 pm Dinner
7:30 pm - 10:00 pm Broadening the Focus of Statistical Physics
Discussion Leader: Jon Machta, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Michael Creutz, Brookhaven National Laboratory
    “From path integrals to lattice gauge theory"
  • Beatte Schmittmann, Virginia Tech
    “Contrasts between equilibrium and nonequilibrium steady states: What we can learn from simple model systems”
  • Daniel ben-Avraham, Clarkson University
    “A simple model for teaching nonequilibrium kinetics and diffusion-limited reactions.”
  • Craig Bohren, Pennsylvania State University
    “Thermodynamics: a tragicomedy in several acts”
Wednesday, June 14
7:30 - 8:30 am Breakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pm Computational Statistical Mechanics
Discussion Leader: Bulbul Chakraborty, Brandeis University
  • Bruce Boghosian, Boston University
    “Lattice-gas models of fluid flow”
  • Bill Hoover, University of California, Davis
    “The smooth particle method”
  • Alej Garcia, San Jose State University
    “A numerical approach to teaching kinetic theory”
  • Franz J. Vesely, University of Vienna
    “Statistical physics for the sophomores.”
10:30 am Coffee break
12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch
5:00 - 6:00 pm Planning session for next Gordon conference
6:00 pm Dinner
7:30 pm - 10:00 pm Teaching of Statistical and Thermal Physics in Chemistry
Discussion Leader: Irwin Oppenheim, MIT
  • David Chandler, University of California, Berkeley
    “Teaching statistical mechanics and thermodynamics in a modern physical chemistry course”
  • David Meltzer, Iowa State University
    “Conceptual problems with free energies in physics and chemistry”
  • Brian B. Laird, University of Kansas
    “Entropy, disorder and freezing”
Thursday, June 15
7:30 - 8:30 Breakfast
9:00 am - 12:30 pm Research of Interest in Undergraduate Statistical and Thermal Physics Courses
Discussion Leader: Marcel den Nijs, University of Washington
  • Debashish Chowdhury, I.I.T. Kanpur, India
    “Use of models of vehicular traffic in teaching non-equilibrium statistical mechanics”
  • Andrea Liu and Doug Durian, UCLA
    “Fluctuations in flowing foam”
  • John Rundle, University of Colorado
    “Statistical mechanics of earthquakes”
10:00 am Coffee break
12:30 - 1:30 pm Lunch
6:00 pm Dinner
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm Topics in Statistical and Thermal Physics
Discussion Leader: Bill Klein, Boston University
  • Ralph Baierlein, Northern Arizona University
    “The elusive chemical potential”
  • Raj Pathria, University of Waterloo
    “Phase transitions in finite-sized systems”
  • Manuel G. Velarde, Facultad de Ciencias, UNED, Spain
    “Summary Remarks”
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