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Thermodynamics of Materials

Explore the fundamental competition between energy and disorder that determines the state of materials at equilibrium.

start date
16 weeks
9-12 hours per week

About this course

How can thermodynamic principles be applied to predict physical phenomena? Thermodynamics of Materials is an online course that introduces you to the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of equilibrium and thermodynamic potentials, and teaches you how to apply these ideas to solve materials science and engineering problems. Learn how to use materials data, computational techniques, and thermodynamics software for materials selection, process design, predictions, and more.

With an emphasis on classical thermodynamics, this course will teach you both classical and statistical interpretations of entropy, as well as the concept of constrained equilibrium, the mathematical structure of classical thermodynamics, and free energy-composition diagrams that underpin binary phase diagrams.

Undergraduate students interested in studying materials science as a primary or secondary focus will most benefit from this course. It is also a good resource for those who have covered thermodynamics in other disciplines and would like to understand how those principles can be applied to materials science.

What you’ll learn

  • Understand the fundamental laws of thermodynamics through the lens of materials science and engineering
  • Discover the molecular origins of enthalpy and entropy
  • Describe what a thermodynamic system is and how to identify dependent and independent thermodynamics variables
  • Construct unary and binary phase diagrams from thermodynamic principles and data, and use those to predict process outcomes and equilibrium states of reacting systems
  • Learn how computational thermodynamics software works, how to find and assess data, and how to apply it to solve materials science and engineering problems

This course is organized into three sections covering the following topics:

Topic 1: Equilibrium

  • Introduction to thermodynamics: enthalpy, entropy, and an atomic view
  • Systems, states, and material properties
  • Processes and the First Law of Thermodynamics
  • Irreversible processes, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and equilibrium
  • The combined statement and differential forms
  • Equilibrium conditions

Topic 2: Phase Diagrams

  • Unary systems and phase diagrams
  • Systems of reacting gases
  • Introduction to binary phase diagrams
  • The lever rule
  • Partial molar properties and the common tangent construction
  • Heterogeneous binary systems and ideal solutions
  • Non-ideal solutions: Dilute and regular models
  • Heterogeneous binary systems: Gibbs phase rule; eutectic, and peritectic reactions
  • Reference states
  • Intermediate phases and line compounds
  • Ternary phase diagrams
  • Reacting systems: Metal oxidation

Topic 3: Foundations

  • Clausius’ statement and the Carnot efficiency limit
  • Reversible and irreversible heat engines
  • Introduction to statistical thermodynamics


Knowledge of single and multivariable calculus; partial differential equations; data analysis; general chemistry.

Meet your instructors

  • Rafael Jaramillo

    Thomas Lord Career Development Professor, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

  • Jessica Sandland

  • John Harrold

Who can take this course?

Because of U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrictions and other U.S. federal regulations, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and the Crimea, Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic regions of Ukraine.