Using quantum erasure to exorcize Maxwell's demon: I. Concepts and context Conference Paper uri icon


  • Szilard [L. Szilard, Zeitschrift fr Physik, 53 (1929) 840] made a decisive step toward solving the Maxwell demon problem by introducing and analyzing the single atom heat engine. Bennett [Sci. Am. 255 (1987) 107] completed the solution by pointing out that there must be an entropy, S=kln2, generated as the result of information erased on each cycle. Nevertheless, others have disagreed. For example, philosophers such as Popper "have found the literature surrounding Maxwell's demon deeply problematic." We propose and analyze a new kind of single atom quantum heat engine which allows us to resolve the Maxwell demon paradox simply, and without invoking the notions of information or entropy. The energy source of the present quantum engine [Scully, Phys. Rev. Lett. 87 (2001) 22601] is a Stern-Gerlach apparatus acting as a demonesque heat sorter. An isothermal compressor acts as the entropy sink. In order to complete a thermodynamic cycle, an energy of W=kTln2 must be expended. This energy is essentially a "reset" or "eraser" energy. Thus Bennett's entropy S=W/T emerges as a simple consequence of the quantum thermodynamics of our heat engine. It would seem that quantum mechanics contains the kernel of information entropy at its very core. That is the concept of information erasure as it appears in quantum mechanics [Scully and Drhl, Phys. Rev. A 25 (1982) 2208] and the present quantum heat engine have a deep common origin. 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

published proceedings

  • Physica E: Low-dimensional Systems and Nanostructures

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Scully, M. O., Rostovtsev, Y., Sariyanni, Z., & Suhail Zubairy, M.

citation count

  • 18

complete list of authors

  • Scully, Marlan O||Rostovtsev, Yuri||Sariyanni, Zoe-Elizabeth||Suhail Zubairy, M

publication date

  • October 2005