Physics Senior Exercise Talk - "Quantum Demonology: Heat, Work, and Thermal Machines" by Alexander New, '14
Heat and work are two of the most fundamental quantities in classical thermodynamics. They allow us to accurately describe and predict the flow of energy in thermal systems. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to adapt these concepts to the quantum regime, especially for very simple systems. For instance, there is currently not a general definition of work or heat that holds for such systems. Our research involved analyzing several models of quantum systems in which concepts parallel to work and heat could be formulated and investigated. We started by looking at two quantum mechanical models of the smallest possible heat engines, a topic which has been studied previously by other researchers. We found that the state of these systems will always converge a simple periodic solution, which allows for easy analysis. Work and heat-like quantities that behave in ways consistent with ordinary thermodynamics can be identified in these engines. Finally, we developed a probability flux analysis technique for these types of quantum systems that allows us to better understand the evolution of the system’s state.
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