Thermodynamics of fluctuations in small systems interacting with the environment Academic Article uri icon


  • A few decades after Hill's work on nano-thermodynamics, the development of a thermodynamic framework, to account consistently for the fluctuations of small systems due to their interactions with the surrounding environment, is still underway. Here we discuss how, in a small system, the interaction energy with the environment may be described through a conjugate pair of intensive and extensive variables, giving rise to a Gibbs thermodynamics with an additional thermodynamic degree of freedom. The relevant thermodynamic potentials help describe the equilibrium conditions and the material properties that measure the susceptibility of the system to the interaction with the environment. The resulting generalized ensembles, which describe the non-negligible, small system fluctuations, are shown to be equivalent. Away from the average thermodynamic state, the availability describes the distance between system and the environment, in terms of the maximum work extractable from the fluctuation, and a proper definition of entropy extends the thermodynamics to the generic fluctuating state. From the latter state, entropic forces arise to restore the average thermodynamic state. Our framework unifies and extends the ensemble thermodynamics by Hill and the recent advances in statistical mechanics under strong coupling and reduces to classical macroscopic thermodynamics when the system is large. The particular case of a small ideal gas system is discussed in detail and the example of a single particle immersed in a bath is revisited in the light of the new formalism.

author list (cited authors)

  • Calabrese, S., Rondoni, L., & Porporato, A

complete list of authors

  • Calabrese, Salvatore||Rondoni, Lamberto||Porporato, Amilcare

publication date

  • September 2019