CHEM1301: Basic Physical Chemistry

Course Organizer:  Dr D W Lewis

Lecturers: Dr D J Caruana, Dr D W Lewis and Dr C G Salzmann

Normal prerequisite: CHEM1004

Units: 1/2

Moodle page:


The aim of this course is to introduce students to the fundamentals of Physical Chemistry. The individual modules are concerned with the nature of molecular interactions as well as the description of chemical systems using quantum mechanics and classical thermodynamics.


Students will be able to

  • understand intermolecular interactions and their effects on the physical properties of materials
  • appreciate the failure of classical mechanics to describe molecular systems, and the role of quantum mechanics in chemistry
  • apply the Schrödinger wave equation to translation, vibration, and the hydrogen atom
  • calculate the heat released / required for chemical reactions
  • predict the outcome of chemical reactions (equilibrium compositions)
  • obtain information about the properties of materials from phase diagrams

Course Structure

  • Lectures:24
  • Tutorials:9 (3 per module)
  • Labs:5 afternoons


  • Exam: 70 % (2 hours)
  • Lab: 20 %
  • Coursework: 10%

Practical course organizer:

  Dr G Volpe

Recommended Texts

  • P W Atkins and J de Paula Atkins' Physical Chemistry 8th edition, Oxford 2006
  • R Silbey and R A Alberty Physical Chemistry 4rd Edition John Wiley 2004

Course Outline

(1) Molecular interactions, DJC, 8 lectures

  • States of matter: phase diagrams, general introduction of a perfect gas, pressure, temperature, concept of equilibrium.
  • Macroscopic description of gases: Boyle’s, Charles’ laws, and mixtures of gases, mole fractions, real gases, Virial equations of state, introduction to plasma as a non-perfect gas and its uses.
  • Microscopic description of gases: Boltzmann and Maxwell distribution laws, molecular speeds and velocities in the gas phase, collision theory, transport properties, diffusion and effusion, introduction to gas phase kinetics, Equipartition of Energy,
  • Macroscopic description of liquids: Equilibrium between gases and liquids, Raoult’s and Henry’s laws, intermolecular forces, phase equilibria,
  • Microscopic description of liquids: intermolecular forces, kinetic theory in liquids, transport properties, self-reactions, heterogeneous and homogenous reactions, interactions with surfaces, self-assembly on surfaces, unusual liquids such as ionic liquids.

(2) Quantum Mechanics DWL, 8 lectures

  • Introduction: Importance of quantum mechanics in chemistry, review of classical mechanics.
  • Failures of classical mechanics and the wave-particle duality.
  • The Schrödinger wave equation: principles and simple applications.
  • Quantum-mechanical treatment of the harmonic oscillator.
  • Quantum-mechanical treatment of the hydrogen atom.

(3) Thermodynamics CGS, 8 lectures

  • Introduction: Thermodynamic quantities, ideal gas law, partial pressures, real gases
  • The first law of thermodynamics: Internal energy, volume work, reversibility, enthalpy, state functions, heat capacity, internal pressure, equipartition principle
  • Thermochemistry: Calorimetry, Hess’s law, Kirchhoff’s law
  • Second law of thermodynamics: Entropy, Trouton’s rule, third law, Clausius inequality, free energy
  • Chemical equilibrium: Equilibrium constant, prediction of equilibrium composition, variation with temperature and pressure
  • Physical equilibrium: Phase transitions, phase rule, one-component phase diagrams, Clausius-Clapeyron equation, two-component systems (distillation, azeotropes, partially miscible liquids)