Trinity—UK collaboration awarded £1.6 million to unveil the secrets of quantum thermodynamics

Posted on: 04 August 2020

Thermodynamics is one of the pillars of natural sciences: it studies the way energy is exchanged between bodies at different temperature, predicts the likeliness of certain chemical reactions, and explains why even the most energy-efficient engine will always produce waste.

However, what happens when the processes of interest involve systems as simple as electrons, atoms or simple molecules?

For such nanoscale building blocks of matter, the laws of physics that we experience in the everyday world are no longer valid, and quantum mechanics come into play. Therefore, to provide an accurate description of energy-exchange processes occurring at microscopic scales, thermodynamics has to be blended with the quantum framework.

Such new avenues of investigation promise to deliver minuscule devices able to make use of the counter-intuitive laws of quantum mechanics to outperform their classical counterparts. Miniaturised to only handfuls of atoms, these machines hold the promise of offering highly efficient ways of generating power, managing heat flows and recovering wasted energy in wide-ranging technologies, from microprocessors to chemical reactions.

The UK-Irish consortium QuamNESS, which comprises researchers at the University of Bristol, Queen’s University Belfast, and Trinity, will address this challenging perspective. By developing novel mathematical tools and powerful simulation methods the fundamental principles governing the performance of the smallest possible engines will be revealed.

Supported by a large EPSRC-SFI grant, in excess of £1.6 million, the QuamNESS team will work towards a fully fledged understanding of how to engineer new technologies that benefit from super-efficient (quantum-enhanced) thermal management.

“Technology is being miniaturised at an unprecedented rate and we can no longer ignore the counterintuitive effects of quantum mechanics,” said Dr John Goold, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Physics and founder of the QuSys group.

The QuSys group in Trinity's School of Physics, with Professor John Goold pictured far left on the back row.

Dr Goold added:

“This leads to both deep and pragmatic scientific questions that this research will aim to address and I am extremely excited about the opportunity to work with both Professor Paternostro (QUB) and Dr Stephen Clark (UOB) since they are two of my most longstanding collaborators. More importantly this research award represents an important and natural reinforcement of both Irish-UK and North-South research collaborations in the post Brexit environment.”

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