The theoretical notion of a 'quantum heat engine' has been around for several decades. It was first introduced around sixty years ago by Scovil and Schulz-DuBois, two physicists at Bell Labs who drew an analogy between three-level masers and thermal machines.
In the years that followed, other researchers have developed a variety of theories building on the ideas of Scovil and Schulz-DuBois, introducing proposals of thermodynamic cycles at the quantum scale. Very recently, physicists have started testing some of these theories in experimental settings.
One of these experiments was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, Universidade Federal do ABC and Centro Brasileiro de Pesquisas Físicas, who successfully demonstrated a spin quantum heat engine in a laboratory setting. Their paper, published in Physics Review Letters, outlines the implementation of a heat engine based on a spin-1/2 system and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques.
"The so-called 'quantum thermodynamics' are currently under development," Roberto Serra, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told Phys.org. "This emerging field is also associated with developments in quantum technology, which promises a kind of new industrial revolution at the nanoscale with disruptive devices for computation, communication, sensors, etc."
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