Thermodynamics with Correlations: Enhancing the Performance of Quantum Maxwell Demons

Adrian Chapman and Akimasa Miyake have recently published their paper in Physical Review E, demonstrating that a Maxwell demon can exploit correlations in its memory to enhance its thermodynamic performance over the demon which cannot. In this classic thought experiment, the demon uses information, rather than energy, to perform a thermodynamic task such as refrigeration. One example is realized by a demon who controls the door of a bipartite container filled with gas. Using a microscopic measuring device, the demon allows only faster molecules to one side while allowing only slower molecules to the other, apparently performing cooling for free. Only when one accounts for the inevitable energy cost of erasing the device’s memory does one see that this supposed perpetual motion machine is actually a refrigerator. This fact suggests that information has value in thermodynamics.

In their paper, the authors consider a simple concrete model of physical system, which acts as an autonomous Maxwell demon. In many previous models, the assumption has been that the demon’s information is uncorrelated: its actions at one time do not depend on what it has learned at earlier times. This convenient assumption may neglect some important physics however, especially in a quantum world, where information can be correlated in a “spooky” way. The authors construct a framework for their model in which quantum correlations can be incorporated in full generality and find that correlations can be thermodynamically useful in the same way as energy or uncorrelated information in the original thought experiment. Their framework relies on techniques from condensed matter physics, which are specialized for handling correlations.

Correlated states of knowledge are not the exception, but rather the rule for realistic thermodynamic systems. This research will thus likely cross-fertilize the fields of thermodynamics and condensed matter physics and ignite further such analyses that incorporate correlations.

The full article is available online at


Quantum information is passed along sequentially to the demon, D, determining whether it will exchange energy with a hot thermal bath or a cold thermal bath.


The one-dimensional nature of the model allows for correlated information to be efficiently stored and updated according to the interaction sequence.


Correlations allow for the emergence of a new operational phase, wherein the demon erases and refrigerates simultaneously as it consumes correlations.





Posted in CQuIC publications, Miyake Group News.
Adrian Chapman

About the Author:

Adrian is an avid swimmer, gamer, and aloha-attired member of Akimasa Miyake's research group. Together, he and his colleague, Jacob Miller, investigate such abstract topics as quantum simulation and condensed matter physics. Adrian is particularly interested in the thermodynamic behavior of quantum many-body systems and understanding how a classical limit may (or may not) emerge in such systems. Adrian received his BS in Physics from Caltech in 2012, where he investigated the robustness of topological quantum error correction codes.