Coherence and measurement in quantum thermodynamics
Nature Publishing Group
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Thermodynamics is a highly successful macroscopic theory widely used across the natural sciences and for the construction of everyday devices, from car engines to solar cells. With thermodynamics predating quantum theory, research now aims to uncover the thermodynamic laws that govern finite size systems which may in addition host quantum effects. Recent theoretical breakthroughs include the characterisation of the efficiency of quantum thermal engines, the extension of classical non-equilibrium fluctuation theorems to the quantum regime and a new thermodynamic resource theory has led to the discovery of a set of second laws for finite size systems. These results have substantially advanced our understanding of nanoscale thermodynamics, however putting a finger on what is genuinely quantum in quantum thermodynamics has remained a challenge. Here we identify information processing tasks, the so-called projections, that can only be formulated within the framework of quantum mechanics. We show that the physical realisation of such projections can come with a non-trivial thermodynamic work only for quantum states with coherences. This contrasts with information erasure, first investigated by Landauer, for which a thermodynamic work cost applies for classical and quantum erasure alike. Repercussions on quantum work fluctuation relations and thermodynamic single-shot approaches are also discussed.
Swiss National Science Foundation
European COST network
Vol. 6, article 22174