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Zenith Grant Awardee

Sebastian Deffner

University of Maryland Baltimore County

Project Title

Thermodynamics of information from driven quantum field theories

Project Summary

Ever since its inception Maxwell’s demon has challenged our understanding of the fundamental laws of thermodynamics. Maxwell noted that if an intelligent agent has information about the microscopic dynamics of a system, the agent can use this information to violate common experience. For instance, usually heat allows flows from hot to cold, but in presence of such a demon heat can flow from cold to hot without having to pay a price. In recent years, we have developed a consistent framework dubbed “thermodynamics of information”, in which the information gained by the agent is understood as an additional thermodynamic resource on par with heat and work. We are now proposing to extend and generalize the existing framework to physics’ most fundamental theory. This will allow us to obtain the most fine-grained understanding for how intelligent control arises from the most fundamental principles of physics. This most fundamental theory (quantum field theory) is a versatile tool to describe physics at all scales – from the universe to properties of materials. Thus, our results could have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the universe, but also more practically in the design of novel architecture for the next generation computers.

Technical Abstract

Ever since its inception Maxwell’s demon has challenged the validity of the statements of thermodynamics. Recent years have seen the rapid development of “thermodynamics of information”, which is an extension of conventional thermodynamics to include the microscopic description of intelligent control agents. It has now become clear that information, as well as work and heat are thermodynamic resources and that in a fully consistent framework the information gain by the control agent has to be accounted for when formulating the second law of thermodynamics. However, the scope of current results is restricted to systems that can be described by classical mechanics or standard quantum mechanics. We are proposing the significantly broaden the scope of “thermodynamic of information” to its ultimate range of validity by generalizing the conceptual building blocks to driven quantum field theories. As main results we will obtain generalizations of the Sagawa-Ueda relation, which is a far from equilibrium statement of the second law for thermodynamic systems under feedback control. Eventually, this work shall lead to a clear and unambiguous list of criteria a quantum field theory has to fulfill to be considered a representation of an intelligent control agent, a quantum field theoretic version of Maxwell’s demon.

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