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1.2 million euros to explore information, irreversibility and energy

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Published on Monday, 27 January 2020

Prof. Massimiliano Esposito from the University of Luxembourg together with international scientists have been awarded a large grant from the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) to explore the relation between information, irreversibility and energy.

Information as fuel in colloids and superconducting quantum circuits

Entitled “Information as fuel in colloids and superconducting quantum circuits”, the project is carried out by Prof. Massimiliano Esposito from the Department of Physics and Materials Science (DPHYMS) at the University of Luxembourg in collaboration with Prof. Benjamin Huard and Prof. Sergio Ciliberto from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon and, Prof. Alexia Auffèves from Institut Néel, CNRS, Grenoble. The aim of the project is to perform 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 realise feats that are seemingly forbidden by the laws of nature (in this case, the second law of thermodynamics). 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?

Prof. Massimiliano Esposito and his co-investigators plan to answer several similar questions in their new project, building on a strong consortium of experimentalists and theorists having brought major contributions in the field, and taking advantage of mature experimental platforms. “Our team is remarkably interdisciplinary as it brings together two theorists and two experimentalists to address classical and quantum aspects of information thermodynamics” explains Prof. Massimiliano Esposito. In particular, they will show that the inherent backaction of a measurement on a quantum system provides a new form of energy resource for engines. They will demonstrate the existence of this resource directly using superconducting circuits and use it for two kinds of Maxwell demons. Besides, they will use colloids and electrical circuits to show new types of autonomous Maxwell demons in the classical limit. 

The Foundational Questions Institute

Founded in 2006, the Foundational Questions Institut (FQXi) is an organisation that provides grants to catalyse, support, and disseminate research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality, but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources. Since 2006, FQXi has awarded over $15M in Large and Mini-Grants to support research that is both foundational (with potentially significant and broad implications for our understanding of the deep or "ultimate" nature of reality) and unconventional (enabling research that, because of its speculative, non-mainstream, or high-risk nature, would otherwise go unperformed due to lack of funding).