Identifying student difficulties with conflicting ideas in statistical mechanics

Trevor I. Smith, Donald B. Mountcastle, John R. Thompson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

In statistical mechanics there are two quantities that directly relate to the probability that a system at a temperature fixed by a thermal reservoir has a particular energy. The density of states function is related to the multiplicity of the system and indicates that occupation probability increases with energy. The Boltzmann factor is related to the multiplicity of the reservoir and indicates that occupation probability decreases with energy. This seems contradictory until one remembers that a complete probability distribution is determined by the total multiplicity of the system and its surroundings, requiring the product of these two functions. We present evidence from individual and group interviews that students knew how each of these functions relates to multiplicity but did not recognize the need to combine the two to characterize the physical scenario.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2012 Physics Education Research Conference
EditorsN. Sanjay Rebello, Paula V. Engelhardt, Alice D. Churukian
PublisherAmerican Institute of Physics Inc.
Pages386-389
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)9780735411340
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013
Event2012 Physics Education Research Conference, PERC 2012 - Philadelphia, United States
Duration: Aug 1 2012Aug 2 2012

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
Volume1513
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616

Other

Other2012 Physics Education Research Conference, PERC 2012
CountryUnited States
CityPhiladelphia
Period8/1/128/2/12

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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