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Learn thermodynamics with online courses and programs

Thermodynamics studies the relationships between various forms of energy. Professionals in fields like engineering, chemistry, biology, and environmental science can benefit from exploring this branch of physics. Get started with edX.
Thermodynamics | Introduction Image Description

What is thermodynamics?

Thermodynamics is the study of the relationships between properties of heat, temperature, energy, and work. It is crucial for understanding processes like energy conversion, heat engines, phase transitions, and chemical reactions.

A set of fundamental principles, known as the laws of thermodynamics, guides the field. These include:

  • Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics: If two systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third system, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.

  • First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred or converted from one form to another.

  • Second Law of Thermodynamics: In any energy transfer or conversion process, the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time.

  • Third Law of Thermodynamics: As the temperature of a system approaches absolute zero, the entropy of the system approaches a minimum value.

As a result of its wide applicability, thermodynamics engineers can find employment in several industries, including chemistry and chemical manufacturing, aerospace and mechanical parts, engines, electronics, and electrical engineering fields.

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Thermodynamics course curriculum

Learning thermodynamics involves studying a broad range of interdisciplinary topics, including complex mathematics. For those just getting started, an introductory course in thermodynamics can cover basic topics such as:

  • Defining systems, surroundings, boundaries, and states

  • Types of systems, including open, closed, and isolated

  • State variables, such as temperature, pressure, volume, internal energy, entropy

  • Equilibrium and different types of equilibrium

  • Zeroth and First Laws of Thermodynamics

  • Gas laws and behavior

From there, you can build on your foundation with intermediate concepts, like entropy changes, thermodynamic processes, and phase transitions. Finally, you may want to explore coursework that offers opportunities to learn advanced applications in thermodynamics.

Learning about how to use this tool can supplement your knowledge of engineering, biology, and other scientific subjects. edX offers a variety of educational opportunities for learners interested in studying these topics, as well as a host of other disciplines. A boot camp can provide flexible, hands-on learning for those who want to upskill quickly, while executive education courses are designed for busy professionals. You can also pursue a more comprehensive curriculum in a bachelor’s degree program or, for more advanced learners, a master’s degree program. Find the right learning path for you.

Explore jobs in thermodynamics

Whether you have a basic grasp of thermodynamics concepts, or you consider yourself an expert on the topic, there are many roles that rely on this specialized knowledge. As you progress through your educational journey, consider these potential job opportunities:

  • HVAC technician: Needs to understand thermodynamics to optimize energy efficiency in HVAC systems.Footnote 1

  • Environmental scientist: Uses thermodynamics concepts to understand and mitigate potential environmental impacts.Footnote 2

  • Chemical engineer: Uses thermodynamics to optimize chemical reactions, design efficient separation processes, and develop energy-efficient industrial processes.Footnote 3

  • Theoretical physicist: Explores fundamental concepts of energy and entropy, quantum thermodynamics, and the interface between thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.Footnote 4

  • Nuclear engineer: Relies on advanced thermodynamics to understand heat generation and transfer within nuclear systems.Footnote 5

Each of these roles will have different education and skills requirements. For example, you may be able to build relevant skills in a boot camp. However, some employers may seek candidates with a degree in engineering, depending on the role. Before deciding on a specific learning path, research the positions you hope to pursue and align your coursework with your career goals.