Large Grants
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Previous Programs

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World

2019 Information as Fuel

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Benjamin Huard
Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon

Alexia Auffèves
Institut Néel, CNRS, Grenoble

Massimiliano Esposito
University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg


Sergio Ciliberto, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon

Project Title

Information as fuel in colloids and superconducting quantum circuits

Project Summary

This project aims at performing groundbreaking experiments to explore the relation between information, irreversibility and energy. This fundamental question lies at the crossroads of statistical physics, quantum mechanics and philosophy. It is the field of information thermodynamics.

The concept of information as a fuel can be traced back to the paradox phrased by Maxwell two centuries ago. Maxwell imagined an entity, called a demon, that observes a system and uses the information it acquired to realize feats that are seemingly forbidden by the laws of nature (in this case, the second law of thermodynamics). For instance, using the information about the system, the demon can create an engine that works without heating one part of the environment or a cooler that cools down a system for free. The paradox was solved a century later, by understanding that the measurement and information storage by the demon need to be accounted for.

Despite its fundamental and practical interest, the field of information thermodynamics is still in its infancy with very few experiments. Energetic footprints associated to the processing of classical information have been observed only recently. Besides, the burst of quantum information technologies has raised new questions.

Is quantum information a new type of fuel leading to a thermodynamic advantage of quantum Maxwell demons with respect to their classical counterparts? Is it possible to design a Maxwell demon that operates in full autonomy and in the classical macroscopic limit? How is information defined in this regime? Our project plans to answer several similar questions, building on a strong consortium of experimentalists and theorists having brought major contributions in the field, and taking advantage of mature experimental platforms. Our interdisciplinary approach paves the way towards a unified framework for Maxwell's demons, from the deep quantum regime where coherence and entanglement matter, to the classical, macroscopic regime where the mere concept of information must be defined. In particular, we will show that the inherent backaction of a measurement on a quantum system provides a new form of energy resource for engines. We will demonstrate the existence of this resource directly using superconducting circuits and use it for two kinds of Maxwell demons. Besides, we will use colloids and electrical circuits to show new types of autonomous Maxwell demons in the classical limit.

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