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In 2012, a team of physicists from Germany proposed a scheme for realizing a nanoscale heat engine composed of a single ion. Like a macroscale heat engine, the theoretical nanoscale version can convert heat into mechanical work by taking advantage of the temperature difference between two thermal reservoirs. Because the single-ion heat engine is so small, at the time the physicists noted that it had the potential to tap into the quantum regime and experience quantum effects.

Now in a new paper, the physicists, from the Universities of Mainz and Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, have theoretically shown that a nanoscale heat engine can take advantage of nonthermal effects.

"Our theoretical and numerical findings show that the performance of quantum heat engines may be enhanced by coupling them to engineered nonthermal reservoirs, like squeezed reservoirs," coauthor Eric Lutz, Physics Professor at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, told Phys.org. "These results follow from the application of the second law of thermodynamics to a reservoir configuration that is more general than usually considered in textbooks. From a theoretical point of view, they indicate that the second law is less restrictive away from equilibrium."

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