PHYS 414

Statistical Mechanics, Spring 2024


Course Overview

Explaining complex systems means coming to terms with the constraints of imperfect knowledge. Typically, we can only track a few of the many degrees of freedom in the system, and our measurements of those quantities have limited resolution in time and space. Statistical mechanics turns that defect into a strength: it allows us to rigorously construct coarse-grained theories of the physical world, discarding irrelevant microscopic details. This course explores the subject from a non-equilibrium perspective, which has several benefits. It provides an alternative, and very enlightening, derivation of the great 19th century tenets of equilibrium thermodynamics. But it also gives us access to seminal results only discovered in the last two decades: fluctuation theorems and work relations valid for systems far from equlibrium. These and other non-equilibrium approaches have become essential tools in fields as diverse as biophysics, nanotechnology, and quantum computation. The course will survey modern research applications through problems and readings drawn from the recent literature. A detailed list of topics can be found in the syllabus.

Instructor:  Michael Hinczewski  (,  homepage)
Lectures:  MWF 11:40am - 12:30pm (Rockefeller 304)
Office hours:  M 5-6pm, F 12:30-1:30pm (Rockefeller 225C)


The lecture notes will be the main reference for the course, since no single textbook covers all the material in the syllabus. As we encounter topics drawn from the recent literature, I will post relevant research articles here.


The course grade will be based on biweekly problem sets.

Acknowledgments: Brownian motion illustration from kaddar.