Name The Experiment Activities

This sequence of activities is designed to provide an opportunity for students to connect partial derivatives with physical experiments in thermodynamics. Small groups are tasked with designing experiments which could be used to measure a partial derivative from thermodynamics. These activities are intended to encourage students to actively think about the physical meaning of partial derivatives throughout thermodynamics problems and demonstrate that some are difficult to measure experimentally but can be expressed in equivalent ways in order to be more easily measured.


  • Name The Experiment: Introduction (Estimated time: 15 minutes): This small group activity is designed to help upper-division undergraduate students connect thermodynamic derivatives with experiments that measure those quantities. A partial derivative is given and students are asked to design an experiment which would provide a measurement of that quantity.
  • Name The Experiment: Changing Entropy (Estimated time: 15 minutes): This small group activity is designed to connect thermodynamic derivatives involving length and tension with measurements of a rubber band. This activity will allow them to tackle trickier experiments in which the entropy is changing which encourages discussion regarding about how one experimentally measures and controls changes of entropy. The integrated Ice Calorimetry Lab introduces students experimental measurements of changes in entropy and may be helpful to complete prior to this activity.
  • Name The Experiment: Maxwell Relations (Estimated time: 50 minutes): This small group activity is designed to demonstrate that some partial derivatives are difficult to measure, but with Maxwell relations, they become easier to measure. Through this activity, students must think whether it is easier to experimentally measure the given partial derivative or an equivalent partial derivative found using Maxwell relations.
  • Name The Experiment: More Maxwell Relations (Estimated time: 30 minutes): FIXME (DELETE) In this small group activity, students are asked to design two ways in which to experimentally measure a given partial derivative. This activity is an extension of Name The Experiment: Maxwell Relations and is typically assigned as an additional challenge. This activity can be made more difficult by not mentioning the use of Maxwell relations at the beginning.

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