Do you know what "Maxwell's demon" (MD) is? It is a device where information is converted to energy using feedback from the measurement. The INFERNOS project has successfully shown how an electronic Maxwell's demon does this with the help of nano technology. This achievement could lead towards more energy-efficient future.

INFERNOS project (Information, Fluctuations, and Energy Control in Small Scale Systems) studies both experimentally and theoretically the statistics of fluctuations and the role of information in thermodynamics of nanoscale systems, aiming at realization of Maxwell’s Demon in various nanoscale systems.

The fundamental objective of the project is to understand the role of information in terms of classical and quantum statistical mechanics and to establish quantitative thermodynamic constraints on operation of quantum detectors. Such a device would also be highly beneficial in order to decrease dissipation in information processing. Thus, INFERNOS aims at building a device that can use the information to decrease such dissipation locally. “It won’t work in practice” would be a layman’s opinion of such a thought experiment with 150 years’ history. However, the suspicion has been turned into success. So far, the MD has been realized in form of a so-called Szilard’s engine in a nanoscale electronic system and in a biomolecular DNA system. In addition, realizations with metallic and non-conducting grains are in progress. The theory work on all these realizations demonstrates the unique physical picture in terms of statistical mechanics of the physical systems under study.

Szilárd’s engine: In the end of the cycle (lower left frame) the work is extracted from the environment. The information on the initial particle location is stored in the device memory in the form of one alternative out of two (left or right) possible locations of the weight.

As an outcome the INFERNOS results have been presented in 32 scientific articles, two of them in Nature Physics series. The perspectives of the project are improved experimental demonstrations of MDs, reversible information processing, and understanding more deeply the foundations of non-equilibrium thermodynamics in small classical and quantum systems.

INFERNOS is coordinated by Professor Jukka Pekola, leader of PICO research group at Aalto University (Finland). His group investigates mesoscopic physics focusing on nonequilibrium in electronic nanostructures. The consortium partners come across the Europe and it has close collaboration with the Stony Brook University in the United States. The Nordic countries are strongly represented in the INFERNOS consortium as beyond Aalto University, Lund University (Sweden) and University of Oslo (Norway) are partners of the project. Other members of the consortium are University of Barcelona (Spain), National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, France), and Delft University of Technology (Netherlands). The culture of the cooperation in INFERNOS is multidisciplinary with open cross-organizational discussions including both young and senior researchers, which is one important element behind the success of project, according to project coordinator. The project will continue till the end of 2015.

This video introduces the Maxwell’s Demon in nanoelectronic system:
Project
Information, Fluctuations, and Energy Control in Small Scale Systems
Project Acronym
INFERNOS
Project website