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Education Highlight - Myhill 2023

Burnman Jupyter Notebooks in the Classroom

Contributed by Robert Myhill, University of Bristol - October 2023

I teach Igneous Petrology to the third year undergraduates and students on the Volcanology Masters course. This course introduces the students to fundamental tools which we all use as petrologists: field studies, experimental petrology, thermodynamics and geodynamic modelling. Perhaps the most difficult part to teach traditionally is thermodynamics. The progression from the First and Second Laws through to equations of state, solution models and then equilibrium and disequilibrium thermodynamics is prone to dry exposition and even simple examples involve mathematics.

Last year, I introduced the python module BurnMan into my teaching. BurnMan is a thermodynamics and thermoelastics toolkit for the Earth and Planetary Sciences that allows easy access to fundamental concepts. I invited the students to use the version of BurnMan available on the free-to-use CIG notebook server, which minimized setup time. My first session with them introduced them to the concepts of Gibbs energy minimization and equilibration through melting of diopside. The students are given time to play around with the evaluate routine in BurnMan, first determining the melting point at a single pressure by looking at the crossover of the Gibbs curves:


The session ends with the students making their first phase diagram using two techniques: the Gibbs minimization technique and the equilibrium relation technique:

The session was supported by whiteboard explanations and ended with a 10 minute discussion exploring aspects of the session that students found complicated. Future sessions will involve exploring other aspects of petrology, using the BurnMan Tutorials as a guide.