Maximum-entropy ensembles are key primitives in statistical mechanics from which thermodynamic properties can be derived. Over the decades, several approaches have been put forward in order to justify from minimal assumptions the use of these ensembles in statistical descriptions. However, there is still no full consensus on the precise reasoning justifying the use of such ensembles. In this work, we provide a new approach to derive maximum-entropy ensembles taking a strictly operational perspective. We investigate the set of possible transitions that a system can undergo together with an environment, when one only has partial information about both the system and its environment. The set of all these allowed transitions encodes thermodynamic laws and limitations on thermodynamic tasks as particular cases. Our main result is that the set of allowed transitions coincides with the one possible if both system and environment were assigned the maximum entropy state compatible with the partial information. This justifies the overwhelming success of such ensembles and provides a derivation without relying on considerations of typicality or information-theoretic measures.
One of the main questions of research on quantum many-body systems following unitary out of equilibrium dynamics is to find out how local expectation values equilibrate in time. For non-interacting models, this question is rather well understood. However, the best known bounds for general quantum systems are vastly crude, scaling unfavorable with the system size. Nevertheless, empirical and numerical evidence suggests that for generic interacting many-body systems, generic local observables, and sufficiently well-behaved states, the equilibration time does not depend strongly on the system size, but only the precision with which this occurs does. In this discussion paper, we aim at giving very simple and plausible arguments for why this happens. While our discussion does not yield rigorous results about equilibration time scales, we believe that it helps to clarify the essential underlying mechanisms, the intuition and important figure of merits behind equilibration. We then connect our arguments to common assumptions and numerical results in the field of equilibration and thermalization of closed quantum systems, such as the eigenstate thermalization hypothesis as well as rigorous results on interacting quantum many-body systems. Finally, we complement our discussions with numerical results - both in the case of examples and counter-examples of equilibrating systems.
We derive general limitations concerning efficiency and power of heat engines strongly coupled to thermal baths. We build this framework on the insight that quantum systems strongly coupled to many-body systems will equilibrate to the reduced state of a global thermal state, deviating from the local thermal state of the system as it occurs in the weak-coupling limit. Taking this observation as the starting point of our analysis, we first provide strong-coupling corrections to the second law in three of its different readings: As a statement of maximal extractable work, on heat dissipation, and bound to the Carnot efficiency. The corrections identified become relevant for small quantum systems and always vanish in first order in the interaction strength. We then move to the question of power of heat engines, obtaining a bound on the power enhancement due to strong coupling. To exemplify our results, we discuss the implications on the paradigmatic situation of non-Markovian quantum Brownian motion.
Building upon work by Matsumoto, we show that the quantum relative entropy with full-rank second argument is determined by four simple axioms: i) Continuity in the first argument, ii) the validity of the data-processing inequality, iii) additivity under tensor products, and iv) super-additivity. This observation has immediate implications for quantum thermodynamics, which we discuss. Specifically, we demonstrate that, under reasonable restrictions, the free energy is singled out as a measure of athermality. In particular, we consider an extended class of Gibbs-preserving maps as free operations in a resource-theoretic framework, in which a catalyst is allowed to build up correlations with the system at hand. The free energy is the only extensive and continuous function that is monotonic under such free operations.
The third law in the form of the unattainability principle states that exact ground-state cooling requires infinite resources. Here we investigate the amount of non-equilibrium resources needed for approximate cooling. We consider as resource any system out of equilibrium, allowing for resources beyond the i.i.d. assumption and including the input of work as a particular case. We establish sufficient conditions for cooling in full generality and show that for a vast class of non-equilibrium resources sufficient and necessary conditions for low-temperature cooling can be expressed in terms of a single function. This function plays a similar role for the third law to the one of the free energy for the second law. From a technical point of view we provide new results about concavity/convexity of certain Renyi-divergences, which might be of independent interest.
We investigate the limitations that emerge in thermodynamic tasks as a result of having local control only over the components of a thermal machine. These limitations are particularly relevant for devices composed of interacting many-body systems. Specifically, we study protocols of work extraction that employ a many-body system as a working medium whose evolution can be driven by tuning the on-site Hamiltonian terms. This provides a restricted set of thermodynamic operations, giving rise to novel bounds for the performance of engines. Our findings show that those limitations in control render it in general impossible to reach Carnot efficiency; in its extreme ramification it can even forbid to reach a finite efficiency of work per particle. We focus on the 1D Ising model in the thermodynamic limit as a case study. We show that in the limit of strong interactions the ferromagnetic case becomes useless for work extraction, while the anti-ferromagnetic improves its performance with the strength of the couplings, reaching Carnot in the limit of arbitrary strong interactions. Our results provide a promising connection between the study of quantum control and thermodynamics and introduce a more realistic set of physical operations well suited to capture current experimental scenarios.
While originally motivated by quantum computation, quantum error correction (QEC) is currently providing valuable insights into many-body quantum physics such as topological phases of matter. Furthermore, mounting evidence originating from holography research (AdS/CFT), indicates that QEC should also be pertinent for conformal field theories. With this motivation in mind, we introduce quantum source-channel codes, which combine features of lossy-compression and approximate quantum error correction, both of which are predicted in holography. Through a recent construction for approximate recovery maps, we derive guarantees on its erasure decoding performance from calculations of an entropic quantity called conditional mutual information. As an example, we consider Gibbs states of the transverse field Ising model at criticality and provide evidence that they exhibit non-trivial protection from local erasure. This gives rise to the first concrete interpretation of a bona fide conformal field theory as a quantum error correcting code. We argue that quantum source-channel codes are of independent interest beyond holography.
A cornerstone of the theory of phase transitions is the observation that many-body systems exhibiting a spontaneous symmetry breaking in the thermodynamic limit generally show extensive fluctuations of an order parameter in large but finite systems. In this work, we introduce the dynamical analogue of such a theory. Specifically, we consider local dissipative dynamics preparing a steady-state of quantum spins on a lattice exhibiting a discrete or continuous symmetry but with extensive fluctuations in a local order parameter. We show that for all such processes satisfying detailed balance, there exist metastable symmetry-breaking states, i.e., states that become stationary in the thermodynamic limit and give a finite value to the order parameter. We give results both for discrete and continuous symmetries and explicitly show how to construct the symmetry-breaking states. Our results show in a simple way that, in large systems, local dissipative dynamics satisfying detailed balance cannot uniquely and efficiently prepare states with extensive fluctuations with respect to local operators. We discuss the implications of our results for quantum simulators and dissipative state preparation.
Recent years have seen an enormously revived interest in the study of thermodynamic notions in the quantum regime. This applies both to the study of notions of work extraction in thermal machines in the quantum regime, as well as to questions of equilibration and thermalisation of interacting quantum many-body systems as such. In this work we bring together these two lines of research by studying work extraction in a closed system that undergoes a sequence of quenches and equilibration steps concomitant with free evolutions. In this way, we incorporate an important insight from the study of the dynamics of quantum many body systems: the evolution of closed systems is expected to be well described, for relevant observables and most times, by a suitable equilibrium state. We will consider three kinds of equilibration, namely to (i) the time averaged state, (ii) the Gibbs ensemble and (iii) the generalised Gibbs ensemble (GGE), reflecting further constants of motion in integrable models. For each effective description, we investigate notions of entropy production, the validity of the minimal work principle and properties of optimal work extraction protocols. While we keep the discussion general, much room is dedicated to the discussion of paradigmatic non-interacting fermionic quantum many-body systems, for which we identify significant differences with respect to the role of the minimal work principle. Our work not only has implications for experiments with cold atoms, but also can be viewed as suggesting a mindset for quantum thermodynamics where the role of the external heat baths is instead played by the system itself, with its internal degrees of freedom bringing coarse-grained observables to equilibrium.
In recent years we have witnessed a concentrated effort to make sense of thermodynamics for small-scale systems. One of the main difficulties is to capture a suitable notion of work that models realistically the purpose of quantum machines, in an analogous way to the role played, for macroscopic machines, by the energy stored in the idealisation of a lifted weight. Despite of several attempts to resolve this issue by putting forward specific models, these are far from capturing realistically the transitions that a quantum machine is expected to perform. In this work, we adopt a novel strategy by considering arbitrary kinds of systems that one can attach to a quantum thermal machine and seeking for work quantifiers. These are functions that measure the value of a transition and generalise the concept of work beyond the model of a lifted weight. We do so by imposing simple operational axioms that any reasonable work quantifier must fulfil and by deriving from them stringent mathematical condition with a clear physical interpretation. Our approach allows us to derive much of the structure of the theory of thermodynamics without taking as a primitive the definition of work. We can derive, for any work quantifier, a quantitative second law in the sense of bounding the work that can be performed using some non-equilibrium resource by the work that is needed to create it. We also discuss in detail the role of reversibility and correlations in connection with the second law. Furthermore, we recover the usual identification of work with energy in degrees of freedom with vanishing entropy as a particular case of our formalism. Our mathematical results can be formulated abstractly and are general enough to carry over to other resource theories than quantum thermodynamics.
The second law of thermodynamics, formulated as an ultimate bound on the maximum extractable work, has been rigorously derived in multiple scenarios. However, the unavoidable limitations that emerge due to the lack of control on small systems are often disregarded when deriving such bounds, which is specifically important in the context of quantum thermodynamics. Here, we study the maximum extractable work with limited control over the working system and its interaction with the heat bath. We derive a general second law when the set of accessible Hamiltonians of the working-system is arbitrarily restricted. We then apply our bound to particular scenarios that are important in realistic implementations: limitations on the maximum energy gap and local control over many-body systems. We hence demonstrate in what precise way the lack of control affects the second law. In particular, contrary to the unrestricted case, we show that the optimal work extraction is not achieved by simple thermal contacts. Our results do not only generalize the second law to scenarios of practical relevance, but also take first steps in the direction of local thermodynamics.