Scheme: Newton Advanced Fellowship
Organisation: University of York
Dates: Mar 2015-Feb 2017
Summary: During the Industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, scientists realized that both heat and the ability of machines to work are different forms of the same physical quantity, i.e. energy. Investigating the conversion of one form of energy into another, they discovered the laws of classical thermodynamics. In the twentieth century the thermodynamics was connected to information theory showing that the conventional information processing method dissipates energy in an irreversible way. This inevitable fact limits conventional computation.
Nowadays, advances in quantum and nano technologies are enabling the first experimental tests of the concept of quantum computers, which are expected, when fully developed, to surpass the calculation capabilities of conventional computers. Such advantages come from the laws of quantum mechanics. But how much energy will this new type of computing need in real world applications? How much heat will these machines produce? What are the limits of this new quantum technology? Answering these questions requires the development of the new discipline of Quantum Thermodynamics, which is one of the frontiers of contemporary science.
Quantum Thermodynamics will also need to explain how the ‘arrow of time’ emerges from quantum systems, i.e. how time flows irreversibly from past to present and into the future. This fact is not obvious in the quantum realm, since the microscopic laws of quantum mechanics are time symmetric, and it is also related to the increasing of entropy (the tendency to disorder). This apparent incompatibility between time’s preferred direction and the microscopic laws of physics has fuelled debates for decades. In a recent experiment, our group observed the emergency of the arrow of time and irreversibility at a quantum scale. We are now in position to shed lights on the limits of the quantum technology.