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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
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2013 Physics of Information
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2010 The Nature of Time
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2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
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2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Jonathan Oppenheim
University College London


Fernando Brandao, University College London; Michal Horodecki, University of Gdansk

Project Title

What are the laws of quantum thermodynamics?

Project Summary

The laws of thermodynamics govern much of the world around us: they tell us that a hot cup of tea in a cold room will cool down rather than heat up; they tell us that unless we are vigilant, our houses will become untidy rather than spontaneously tidy. But the laws of thermodynamics only apply to large objects, when many particles are involved. Can the laws of thermodynamics be applied to small systems, or perhaps even quantum systems? Tools from information theory can be used to do so, and this research aims to construct laws of thermodynamics for quantum systems. What's more, it appears that nature imposes fundamental limitations on microscopic devices and heat engines. A quantum heat engine will sometimes fail. We cannot extract energy optimally from a quantum system. This means that the present laws of thermodynamics are fundamentally incorrect if applied to small systems, and many of the standard laws need to be modified. The results if this research have wide applications in small systems, from nanoscale devices, to biological motors, to quantum technologies such as quantum computers, and to nanorobots drinking molecular amounts of tea.

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