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Quantum engines must break down
Date:6/26/2013

xtracting energy from microscopic systems and heat engines. A quantum heat engine is not as efficient as a macroscopic one, and will sometimes fail," said Professor Oppenheim, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at UCL's Department of Physics and Astronomy and one of the authors of the research. "The limitations are due to both finite size effects, and to quantum effects."

The researchers investigated the efficiency of microscopic heat engines and found that one of the basic quantities in thermodynamics, the free energy, does not determine what can happen in small systems, and especially in quantum mechanical systems. Instead, several new free energies govern the behaviour of these microscopic systems.

In large systems, if you put pure energy into a system, then you can recover all this energy back to use to power an engine which can perform work (such as lifting a heavy weight). But the researchers found that this was not the case for microscopic systems. If you put work into a quantum system you generally cannot get it all back.

Professor Michal Horodecki of the University of Gdansk, and co-author of the paper, said: "Thermodynamics at the microscopic scale is fundamentally irreversible. This is dramatically different to larger systems where all thermodynamic processes can be made reversible if we change systems slowly enough."


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Contact: Rosie Waldron
r.waldron@ucl.ac.uk
020-767-99041
University College London
Source:Eurekalert

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