A multitasking quantum nanomachine acts as a refrigerator and heat engine at the same time
In traditional heat engines and refrigerators, two pools of fluid are connected together. The fluid in one pool heats up on compression while the fluid in the other pool cools through rapid expansion. If these operations are performed in a periodic cycle, it will lead to energy exchange between the pools and the system can be utilized as either a heat engine or a refrigerator.
But Riken Engineers have created something unusual – A quantum nanomachine that acts as a fridge and a heat engine simultaneously.
On the macroscale, making a machine that does both tasks simultaneously is not possible. According to Keiji Ono of the RIKEN Advanced Device Laboratory, “Combining a traditional heat engine with a refrigerator would make it a completely useless machine”.
The device developed by the RIKEN team is one of the first to test how quantum effects, which govern the behavior of particles on the tiniest scale, might one day be exploited for improving the performance of nanotechnologies.
The quantum nanomachine uses an electron in a transistor. There are two possible energy states of an electron. By applying an electric field and microwaves, the group managed to increase or decrease the gap between these energy states.
According to Ono, “This can be analogous to the periodic expanding–compressing operation of a fluid in a chamber,”. Microwaves were also emitted by the device when the electron moved from the high to the lower energy level.
By watching whether the upper energy level was occupied, the team first showed that the nanodevice could act as either a refrigerator or a heat engine. At that point, however, they showed something extraordinary—the nanomachine acting as a heat engine and refrigerator at the same time. This is purely a quantum effect. The research team verified this by looking at the occupancy of the upper energy level, which combined to create a characteristic interference pattern.
According to the group, the interference pattern from the experiment matched perfectly with that predicted by theory.
Ono Explains, “This may allow rapid switching between the two modes of operation and this ability could help create novel applications with such systems in future.”
A Quantum Nanomachine
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