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(TR) Thermodynamics & Electromagnetism - PHY00044I

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  • Department: Physics
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Roddy Vann
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

This module will cover two of the foundational concepts of classical physics: thermodynamics and electromagnetism.

The thermodynamics element will explore the macroscopic picture of energy, distinguishing between the concepts of work and heat, and exploring how their exchange can put crucial bounds on physics in a number of contexts.

The electromagnetism element will develop your skills in electromagnetism to explore the dynamic regime, tackling problems which can be time dependent and in which the fields exist in media other than a vacuum.

Related modules

Pre-requisites: Mathematics I, Electromagnetism, Waves and Optics

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

This module will cover two cornerstone topics in classical physics: thermodynamics and electromagnetism.

Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that can be applied to any system in which thermal processes are important, although we will concentrate on systems in thermal equilibrium. It is based on four laws (derived from experimental observation) and makes no assumptions about the microscopic character of the system. It is therefore very powerful and general. We will introduce these laws, consider their consequences and apply them to some simple systems.

Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces and is responsible, along with gravity, for the bulk of macroscopic physics. This module solves problems that are time dependent and in which the fields exist in media other than a vacuum.

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand and explain fundamental principles of electromagnetism and the standard formulations used to describe them

  • Apply Maxwell’s equations and other physical principles in conjunction with mathematical & computational tools to solve unseen problems in electromagnetism

  • Understand how problems in thermal physics can be formulated and solved in terms of heat and work

  • Utilise the laws of thermodynamics to solve thermodynamics problems involving state variables such as thermodynamic potentials and entropy

Module content

Electromagnetism component

  • Maxwell’s equations

  • Review of electrostatics covered in Electromagnetism I

  • Poisson’s equation and Laplace’s equation

  • Differential and integral forms of Ampere’s Law

  • Magnetic fields of wires and solenoids

  • Vector potential

  • Biot-Savart law

  • Induced currents; emfs and generators

  • Differential and integral forms of Faraday’s Law

  • Induction, generators and transformers

  • Mutual inductance and self inductance

  • Charge conservation

  • Ampere-Maxwell equation

  • Electromagnetic waves; the speed of light

  • Poynting vector

  • Energy density of electric and magnetic fields

  • Advanced and retarded potentials from a moving charge

  • Polarization

  • Reflection and refraction of light in terms of Maxwell’s equations at a boundary

  • Polarization of electromagnetic waves, Brewster’s angle and polaroids

  • Malus’s law. Sequences of polarizing filters

  • Plane polarized, circularly polarized and elliptically polarized light

  • Electric dipoles

  • Properties of dielectric materials

  • Capacitance of devices with dielectrics

  • Polarization charges, polarization vector and displacement field

  • Electrostatic energy

  • Magnetic energy

  • Magnetic dipoles; analysis of forces on a current-carrying loop

  • Field of a current-carrying loop; energy of a magnetic dipole in a magnetic field

Thermodynamics component

Fundamentals: The ideal gas, definitions of heat and work, systems and surroundings, temperature and zeroth law of thermodynamics, quasi-static reversible processes, thermodynamic equilibrium and equation of state.

The first law: The differential form of the first law, thermodynamic pathways, functions of state, exact and inexact differentials.

The second law: Irreversible changes, thermodynamics cycles, Carnot engines, entropy, the equivalence of various formulations of the second law.

Thermodynamic potentials: Enthalpy, Helholtz free energy, Gibbs free energy, Maxwell relations, free energy and thermodynamic equilibrium, phase transitions, Clausius-Clapyron equation, phase diagrams

Further applications : Application of thermodynamics beyond PV systems, the Third Law.


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
(TR) Thermodynamics & Electromagnetism
3 hours 80
Physics Practice Questions
N/A 20

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
(TR) Thermodynamics & Electromagnetism
3 hours 80

Module feedback

'Feedback’ at a university level can be understood as any part of the learning process which is designed to guide your progress through your degree programme. We aim to help you reflect on your own learning and help you feel more clear about your progress through clarifying what is expected of you in both formative and summative assessments.

A comprehensive guide to feedback and to forms of feedback is available in the Guide to Assessment Standards, Marking and Feedback. This can be found at:

The School of Physics, Engineering & Technology aims to provide some form of feedback on all formative and summative assessments that are carried out during the degree programme. In general, feedback on any written work/assignments undertaken will be sufficient so as to indicate the nature of the changes needed in order to improve the work. Students are provided with their examination results within 25 working days of the end of any given examination period. The School will also endeavour to return all coursework feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The School would normally expect to adhere to the times given, however, it is possible that exceptional circumstances may delay feedback. The School will endeavour to keep such delays to a minimum. Please note that any marks released are subject to ratification by the Board of Examiners and Senate. Meetings at the start/end of each semester provide you with an opportunity to discuss and reflect with your supervisor on your overall performance to date.

Our policy on how you receive feedback for formative and summative purposes is contained in our Physics at York Taught Student Handbook

Indicative reading


Adkins CJ: Equilibrium thermodynamics (CUP)***

Zemansky MW and Dittman RH: Heat and thermodynamics (McGraw-Hill)***

Blundell SJ and KM: Concepts in Thermal Physics (Oxford University Press)**


Feynman: Lectures on Physics volume 2 (Addison-Wesley) ****

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.