Statistical mechanics

Statistical mechanics is a branch of theoretical physics that uses probability theory to study the average behaviour of a mechanical system whose exact state is uncertain.[1][2][3][note 1]

Statistical mechanics is commonly used to explain the thermodynamic behaviour of large systems. This branch of statistical mechanics, which treats and extends classical thermodynamics, is known as statistical thermodynamics or equilibrium statistical mechanics. Microscopic mechanical laws do not contain concepts such as temperature, heat, or entropy; however, statistical mechanics shows how these concepts arise from the natural uncertainty about the state of a system when that system is prepared in practice. The benefit of using statistical mechanics is that it provides exact methods to connect thermodynamic quantities (such as heat capacity) to microscopic behaviour, whereas, in classical thermodynamics, the only available option would be to just measure and tabulate such quantities for various materials. Statistical mechanics also makes it possible to extend the laws of thermodynamics to cases which are not considered in classical thermodynamics, such as microscopic systems and other mechanical systems with few degrees of freedom.[1]

Statistical mechanics also finds use outside equilibrium. An important subbranch known as non-equilibrium statistical mechanics deals with the issue of microscopically modelling the speed of irreversible processes that are driven by imbalances. Examples of such processes include chemical reactions or flows of particles and heat. Unlike with equilibrium, there is no exact formalism that applies to non-equilibrium statistical mechanics in general, and so this branch of statistical mechanics remains an active area of theoretical research.

  1. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference gibbs was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference tolman was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Cite error: The named reference balescu was invoked but never defined (see the help page).


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