January 10, 2010

Billinge, Simon
[MSAE E3111] Thermodynamics, Kinetic Theory, and Statistical Mechanics

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

Not the best professor you will ever have. Billinge is very disorganized and his interest in the class is questionable. He is usually unprepared for lectures and seems to wing every class. Whenever he finds himself in a rut, which happens fairly often, he picks on a few students in hopes of fishing a good explanation... oddly enough, this is probably the best aspect of the class. The inadvertent class participation actually helps in bringing across points. However, there have been a couple occasions where the entire class came to a standstill because he forgot an key element in a derivation.

Billinge assigns 4-5 problems every week or so. He usually gets them from the textbook. On the syllabus he said he would assign each problem set on a Friday to be due the following Friday but almost assigns the problem set a few days late and almost always expects us to turn them in the original date. The problem sets are not usually hard so it's never a big deal. Ever so often he assigns a problem that is beyond where the class is at that point and, after you spend a few hours on it, he emails you the night before the hw is due saying that the question is dropped. After we turn them in though, the TA takes like a month to grade them. The TA for the class was ok and usuall helpful but there always seemed to be huge communication gap between the professor and the TA.

The structure of the class is as the title suggests: thermo then kinetic theory then stat mech. I found the topics themselves to be interesting enough and they have proven useful in some of my other courses.

Workload:

Problem sets every week or so. Usually pretty easy.
2 midterms. The first one was pretty hard and long but the second (class average was about a 60%) was much more manageable (avg. ~85%).
1 final. About the same level of difficulty as the second midterm. It was cumulative with heavy emphasis on the stuff we did after the second midterm. He does have a knack for curveball questions, so you have to watch out for that.