Quantum heat engines, the second law and Maxwell's daemon
ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum-Atom Optics, Centre for Atom Optics and Ultrafast Spectroscopy, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, 3122, Australia
Corresponding author: a firstname.lastname@example.org
Revised: 12 February 2006
Published online: 11 April 2006
We introduce a class of quantum heat engines which consists of two-energy-eigenstate systems, the simplest of quantum mechanical systems, undergoing quantum adiabatic processes and energy exchanges with heat baths, respectively, at different stages of a cycle. Armed with this class of heat engines and some interpretation of heat transferred and work performed at the quantum level, we are able to clarify some important aspects of the second law of thermodynamics. In particular, it is not sufficient to have the heat source hotter than the sink, but there must be a minimum temperature difference between the hotter source and the cooler sink before any work can be extracted through the engines. The size of this minimum temperature difference is dictated by that of the energy gaps of the quantum engines involved. Our new quantum heat engines also offer a practical way, as an alternative to Szilard's engine, to physically realise Maxwell's daemon. Inspired and motivated by the Rabi oscillations, we further introduce some modifications to the quantum heat engines with single-mode cavities in order to, while respecting the second law, extract more work from the heat baths than is otherwise possible in thermal equilibria. Some of the results above are also generalisable to quantum heat engines of an infinite number of energy levels including 1-D simple harmonic oscillators and 1-D infinite square wells, or even special cases of continuous spectra.
PACS: 05.90.+m – Other topics in statistical physics, thermodynamics, and nonlinear dynamical systems / 05.70.-a – Thermodynamics
© EDP Sciences, Società Italiana di Fisica, Springer-Verlag, 2006