Energy, Entropy, and Everything

Honors 1500, Perspectives in the Physical Sciences

Instructor: Daniel Schroeder, Physics Department, Weber State University
Office: SL208
Office hours: 10:00 until 11:30 daily. I'm usually in my office afternoons after 1:00 as well. If you'd like to meet me in the morning before class, please make an appointment.
Email: dschroeder at
Course web site:
Phone: 626-6048

Course Description

This course will explore the two most important and most useful principles of physical science: the first and second laws of thermodynamics, or the laws of energy and entropy. In brief, these laws are that energy is always conserved (its total amount never changes, though it can be converted from one form to another) and entropy always tends to increase. We will look into the history of the discovery of these laws, work to understand them through elementary calculations and experiments, and apply them as widely as possible, to gain a better understanding of the physical world we live in.

Topical Outline (tentative)

Goals of the Course

Science is not so much a collection of facts as a way of looking at the world. My hope is that this course will not only teach you the concepts of energy and entropy, but will also improve your skills in careful thinking, problem solving, and communication. In this course you'll get lots of practice in working with numbers: reading them, comparing them, converting them, using them to answer questions, and conveying them to others in an understandable way. Verbal skills (reading, writing, and speaking) will also be very important. These are the skills that you will need to become a participant in solving the energy problems of the future, rather than merely a spectator.

Policies and Procedures

Class sessions will be spent on lecture, demonstrations, discussion, and occasional in-class experiments. I strongly recommend that you attend regularly and arrive on time. You are responsible for all material presented in class; some of this material will not be covered by the reading assignments.

Reading assignments will be from class handouts and a variety of other sources (see the accompanying reference list). You are responsible for reading and understanding the assigned material before coming to class. We will not have time to review all of the material in class.

Homework assignments will be due at the beginning of class almost every day. These short assignments are intended to give you frequent practice with the course material, especially with the more quantitative skills. Although I encourage you to discuss the course material, including these assignments, with your classmates, the work that you turn in must be entirely your own. (This means that you may not look at someone else's written solutions until after you have finished yours.) Late assignments will not be accepted. However, in computing your total grade I will ignore your three lowest homework scores, so you may miss up to three assignments with no penalty. This policy should give you enough flexibility to deal with most illnesses, family emergencies, term papers, unexpected romances, and the like.

I will also assign four or five larger projects during the semester. For each project you will turn in a typed paper, varying in length from 2 to 5 pages. Due dates for these projects will be announced at least two weeks in advance.

There will be three major tests in this course, one at the end of each five-week course segment. The tests will be closed-book, with no calculators permitted. They will be given in the Science Testing Center, SL228. You may take the first midterm test on February 18 or 19, the second midterm test on April 1 or 2, and the final exam at any time during finals week (May 5 through 8). No make-up tests will be given without advance permission.

Grades will be computed according to the following weights:

In deciding borderline grades I will also consider class participation. (It is your effort at participation that matters; how much knowledge you demonstrate makes no difference at all.)

Academic dishonesty, though rare, occasionally does occur in honors classes, so the following policies are necessary. Dishonesty on a take-home quiz will result in a zero grade for that quiz on the first occurrence and failure in the course thereafter. Dishonesty of any sort on a project or test, if clearly documented, will result in automatic failure in the course. In serious cases, evidence of dishonesty may also be presented to the appropriate hearing committee for possible further sanctions.

Special notice: Any student requiring accommodations or services due to a disability must contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) in room 181 of the Student Service Center. SSD can also arrange to provide course materials (including this syllabus) in alternative formats if necessary.

Last modified on 13 January 2003.