(Phys.org) Researchers in a laboratory in Singapore have shown that a single atom can function as either an engine or a fridge. Such a device could be engineered into future computers and fuel cells to control energy flows.
This work gives new insight into the mechanics of such devices. The work is a collaboration involving researchers at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) and Department of Physics at the National University of Singapore (NUS), SUTD and at the University of Augsburg in Germany.
“Think about how your computer or laptop has a lot of things inside it that heat up. Today you cool that with a fan that blows air. In nanomachines or quantum computers, small devices that do cooling could be something useful,” says Dario Poletti from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
Understanding the atom-sized machine involved both complicated calculations and observations. The team needed to track two thermodynamic quantities known as ergotropy, which is the energy that can be converted to useful work, and entropy, which is related to disorder in the system. Both ergotropy and entropy increase as the atom-machine runs. There’s still a simple way of looking at it, says first author and Ph.D. student Van Horne, “Loosely speaking, we’ve designed a little machine that creates entropy as it is filled up with free energy, much like kids when they are given too much sugar.”

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