Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session


This is the second term in a two-semester course on statistical mechanics. Basic principles are examined in this course, such as the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of temperature, work, heat, and entropy. Topics from modern statistical mechanics are also explored, including the hydrodynamic limit and classical field theories.


8.333 Statistical Mechanics


  1. Collective Modes: Hydrodynamic limit; importance of symmetries and dimensionality; introduction to phase transitions and critical phenomena.
  2. The Landau-Ginzburg Model: Mean-field theory; critical exponents; Goldstone modes and the lower critical dimension; fluctuations and the upper critical dimension.
  3. Universality: Self-similarity; the scaling hypothesis; Kadanoff’s heuristic renormalization group (RG), and exponent identities.
  4. Perturbation Theory: Diagrammatic expansions; Wilson’s momentum space RG, and the taming of divergent perturbation series by epsilon-expansions.
  5. Lattice Models: Ising, potts, etc.; position-space RGs (Cumulant, Migdal-Kadanoff); Monte-Carlo simulations; finite-size scaling.
  6. Series Expansions: Low temperatures and high temperatures; duality; random walk generating functions; exact solution of the two-dimensional Ising model.
  7. Two-dimensional Films: Algebraic order; topological defects; melting and the hexatic phase; the non-linear sigma model.
  8. Dynamics: Langevin equations; conservation laws; dynamic universality classes.
  9. Random Systems: Annealed versus quenched impurities; Harris’ criterion; random bonds; random fields; spin-glasses.
  10. Scaling theories of polymers, and other networks.


This course does not follow a particular text. The following are useful reference books:

Kardar, Mehran. Statistical Physics of Fields. Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780521873413. [Preview with Google Books]

Ma, Shang-keng. Modern Theory of Critical Phenomena. Addison-Wesley, 1976. ISBN: 9780805366709.

Stanley, H. Eugene. Introduction to Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena. Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN: 9780195014587.

Amit, Daniel J. Field Theory, the Renormalization Group, and Critical Phenomena. Revised 2nd ed. World Scientific Publishing Company, 1984. ISBN: 9789971966102.

Huang, Kerson. Statistical Mechanics. 2nd ed. Wiley, 1987. ISBN: 9780471815181.

Negele, John W., and Henri Orland. Quantum Many-particle Systems.Perseus Books, 1988. ISBN: 9780201125931.

Feynman, Richard Phillips. Statistical Mechanics: A Set of Lectures. Westview Press, 1998. ISBN: 9780201360769. [Preview with Google Books]

Parisi, Giorgio. Statistical Field Theory. Addison-Wesley, 1988. ISBN: 9780201059854.

Problem Sets

The homework assignments are an important part of this course, and the final average homework score will count for 30% of the final grade. You may consult with classmates in “study groups”, as long as you write out your own answers, and do not use solution-sets from previous years.

There are 6 problem sets. Occasionally, there are problems marked as optional in the problem sets. If attempted, these problems will be graded as other problems, and their score added to the total. The overall grade for the course has a 30% contribution from the (required) problem sets. Thus, perfect scores on all the non-optional problems leads to the maximal grade of 30 from the problem sets. The optional problems provide a chance to reach the 30%-score for the problem sets, even when some of the required problems are not correct.


There are 3 in-class tests; in-class tests each count for 15% of the final grade.

Final Project

Students choose one of the following two for a final project:

  1. Research Project: Write a brief paper (two to four pages in Physical Review format) on a subject of your choice, relevant to the topics of this course.
  2. Teaching Site: Design a website that can be used to teach a topic related to Collective Behaviors to non-specialists.

The final project counts for 25% of the course grade.


Final grades will be determined from:

Homework 30%
3 In-class tests @15% 45%
Final project 25%

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes
Lecture Videos