Updates to the Second Law from Quantum Thermodynamics

Nicole Yunger Halpern National Institute of Standards and Technology, Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, University of Maryland

Tuesday, February 13, 2024
1:00pm–2:30pm (East Coast time)

[Registration Form] (Abstract, Video, and Slides Below)

• The Foundations of Physics @Harvard series is co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy
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Questions or comments: Jacob Barandes, firstname_lastname(at)harvard.edu (organizer)

Video (YouTube)
Slides (PDF)


Open Discussion and Q&A


Thermodynamics reigns as queen of the physical theories, governing everything from biophysics to cosmology. The second law of thermodynamics heads her court, stipulating that time appears to flow in only one direction and limiting engines’ efficiencies. However, idealizations curtail the original second law’s applicability: small systems violate simple, early formulations of the law, which imply quantitative predictions only about equilibrium states. The nineteenth-century law has been tightened, including within quantum thermodynamics, a field that has taken off in the past decade. I will illustrate this progress with examples. As a spoiler alert: I know of no ways to leverage quantum phenomena to break the second law. However, quantum and other resources enable us to “bend around” the second law: we can appear to violate the law while, in fact, subtly avoiding assumptions behind modern formulations of the law.