What’s the News: Anyone who has had their thighs baked by a laptop knows that computing releases heat. And it’s more than a common-sense maxim: physicists have shown that heat released by information processing is bound by a physical law, where a bit of information processed must cause a corresponding rise in temperature. But could quantum mechanics allow computations that actually cool computers down? In a recent Nature paper, researchers describe how this paradox is possible.
Physicists have designed the world’s smallest refrigerator, small enough that it can’t hold any of your food. The fridge consists of three qubits–quantum particles that act as on-off switches. These quantum particles could be ions, atoms, or subatomic particles.
Other small systems have been created, but this is the first that doesn’t rely on external mechanisms, such as sophisticated lasers. “The whole guts of the fridge, it’s all accounted for and not hidden in some macroscopic object which is really doing the work,” [coauthor Noah] Linden says. [Science News]
Kitchen refrigerators work by shuttling heat away from one area (where you store your food) and dumping it somewhere else (the coils behind). This transfer isn’t news. Fans of thermodynamics have built devices to wick away heat from one source and dump it somewhere else since the nineteenth century. The device proposed in a paper to appear in Physical Review Letters uses the same basic technique but at a much smaller scale–on the size of three qubits, connected to two “baths,” one cold (or around room temperature) and one hot.