The researchers were recently awarded a three-year, $1 million grant from the Templeton Foundation to research quantum measurement engines — engines that use the principles of quantum mechanics to run with 100 percent efficiency. The research, say the scientists, could answer important questions about the laws of thermodynamics in quantum systems and contribute to technologies such as more efficient engines and quantum computers
The researchers have previously described the concept of quantum measurement engines, but the theory has never been demonstrated experimentally. Through their experiments, the researchers will study how the laws of energy, work, power, efficiency, heat, and entropy function at the quantum level - concepts that are currently poorly understood in quantum mechanics.
Quantum measurement engines may work in microscopic environments for very small power tasks such as moving around an atom or charging a miniaturized circuit. In these capacities, they may be important components for quantum computers.
"The power scales involved - numbers like picowatts - indicate the large gap between our human interests and these tiny engines," says Andrew Jordan, a professor of physics at Rochester.
One way to make quantum measurement engines for human-scale activities, say the researchers, may be "through massive parallelization."
"Each device only outputs a tiny amount of energy, but by making billions of them working together, you could make a macroscopic engine from the ground up," says Jordan.
The researchers will also investigate another major area of research: how it might be possible to extract work from a system using entanglement as a fuel. In entanglement - one of the basic of concepts of quantum physics - the properties of one particle are interlinked with properties of another, even when the particles are separated by a large distance.
Using entanglement as a fuel, say the researchers, has the possibly revolutionary feature of creating a non-local engine - i.e., half of an engine could be in New York, while the other half