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Pure Appl. Chem., 2011, Vol. 83, No. 6, pp. 1217-1220

Published online 2010-12-06

Teaching thermodynamics: The challenge

Peter Atkins

Lincoln College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Abstract: I consider the challenges of sharing thermodynamic concepts with both the general public and with students, whom I regard mostly as students of chemistry. I deal with the following challenges: (1) The order of presentation: what are the issues relating to presenting thermodynamics before or after quantum theory? (2) What should we identify as the foundations of our subject? (3) How do we convey to the general public (and the starting student) the insights that we get from the Second Law? (4) How do we bridge the gap from the qualitative to the quantitative? (5) Does visualization of calculations and concepts always help or can it make matters more complicated? (6) How do we make the transition to discussions in terms of Helmholtz and Gibbs energies, and start doing chemically useful calculations? (7) How do we keep track of the seemingly overwhelmingly large number of equations that a systematic treatment of thermodynamics inevitably generates? (8) How should we introduce statistical thermodynamics and enrich our understanding of classical thermodynamics? (9) How do we extend calculations to show the fascinating and broad scope of elementary thermodynamics?