Virtual Thermodynamics Lab and its use in Advanced Physical Chemistry

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ETHermodynamics is software that was specifically designed for students to get a deeper understanding of thermodynamics. It provides an intuitive UI that allows students to set up experiments that are then simulated using fundamental laws of physics (here classical mechanics) to calculate the motion and elastic collisions of the individual microscopic particles that constitute a macroscopic system.

What follows is data that demonstrates ideas at the heart of thermodynamics, like the
ideal gas law, arising not from either real-life experiments or the a priori knowledge of
thermodynamics, but from the aforementioned fundamentals of physics. The goal of this approach is to give students a hands-on way to understand that thermodynamics results from statistics applied to a classical mechanical many-particle system.

So far, a predecessor of ETHermodynamics has been used in a bachelor’s course of chemistry for pharmacists and biologists, and ETHermodynamics itself has been used in a master’s course for chemists. It has been used in hybrid classes, with an introduction to the software during a class-room lecture and exercises at home or in small classes.

During this first deployment of the software, a lot of feedback has been collected from the students both directly and through their teaching assistants. Students received support either from the developers directly, or through their teaching assistants. An assessment in the way of a structured feedback, for example through a questionnaire,
is planned

What are your thoughts and ideas for the time after the pandemic?
The big picture plan is to roll out ETHermodynamics to more lectures, with different professors and for students at different levels – even to high school teachers and students. The fact that ETHermodynamics is a self-contained, easy-to-use piece of software makes it extremely flexible in its application: It could just as well be installed on school computers for use in a digital lab, as it can be used by students at home to solve a piece of homework. For the lectures for master’s chemistry students, installation and introduction of the software could, in the future, be done at home easily. Then, students can use it at home or in small classrooms to solve exercises given to them
Describe the overall concept of your course before the pandemic - during - after.
Before the pandemic was before ETHermodynamics – however, for many years, its predecessor was in use: a command-prompt based piece of software that allowed running text-based experiments. This required the attention of many teaching assistants for basically the entire course: Problems would arise frequently with students misplacing a comma or using a capital letter where a lower-case letter was necessary. During obligatory home-office it would have been impossible to perform this part of the course. ETHermodynamics changed this drastically: Instead of in-person guidance being necessary for the entire duration of the use of the software, it became obsolete even to have an introductory in-person
class. Everything students need is available in an easy-to-access and easy-to-use way.
What discussion points are you particularly interested in when exchanging with other lecturers?
It would be very interesting to see if other lecturers would be interested in giving ETHermodynamics a try. Having it used in more classrooms, with a more diverse set of students from different background and
levels of knowledge, could provide major insight. Moreover, seeing ETHermodynamics be used more broadly would make the team behind ETHermodynamics, whose goal it is to further the understanding of thermodynamics of as many students as possible, very happy.