In physics, the Boltzmann factor is a weighting factor that determines the relative probability of a particle to be in a state in a multi-state system in thermodynamic equilibrium at temperature . The Boltzmann factor is normally used when discussing systems described by the canonical ensemble - for the grand canonical ensemble, it is more appropriate to use the Gibbs' factor which takes into account particle transfer between the system and the environment.
The probability that a system is in a state is given by:
Where is given by
The Boltzmann factor is the term:
Consider a single atom system with energy states . The system is in contact with a heat reservoir and thus conservation of energy gives total energy
with being total system energy and being total reservoir energy. In equilibrium, the number of states in and is the multiplicity . Similar to total energy, we can write:
The probability that an atom is in state is related to the number of states in the reservoir - from Equipartition theorem. Consider taking the ratio of two probabilities:
We can relate the number of states to the entropy via
The Fundamental thermodynamic relation tells us that for the reservoir (rearranging and neglecting the chemical potential term):
Where is the entropy, is the internal energy, is pressure and is volume.
For a gas, it is reasonable to assume that so this term also drops out giving:
By energy conservation and giving
Substituting into the probability ratio gives:
Where we have defined an arbitrary symbol , which is the reciprocal of Boltzmann's constant times temperature. Through separation of variables, we can write
The Boltzmann factor is not a probability by itself, because it is not normalized. The normalization factor is one divided by the partition function, the sum of the Boltzmann factors for all states of the system. This gives the Boltzmann distribution.
From the Boltzmann factor it is possible to derive the Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics, Bose-Einstein statistics, and Fermi-Dirac statistics that govern classical particles as well as quantum mechanical bosons, and fermions, respectively.
- Boltzmann relation (plasma physics)
- Charles Kittel and Herbert Kroemer, Thermal Physics, 2nd ed. (Freeman & Co.: New York, 1980).