Thermodynamic irreversibility does arise from quantum dynamics

Last updated October 18, 2018 by Andrew Brown

An international collaboration led by the Quantum Technology group at Queen’s University (QTeQ) has made an important breakthrough in quantum thermodynamics.

Quantum theory suggests that we should be able to reverse time, whereas our experience (thermodynamics) tells us otherwise. The resolution of this apparent contradiction has eluded scientists until now.

The theoretical framework was developed by Queen’s physicists G De Chiara, A Ferraro and M Paternostro, together with their former PhD students Matteo Brunelli and Lorenzo Fusco and collaborators from the University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of ABC.

Experimentalists at ETH Zurich and the University of Vienna then performed two experiments to show that macroscopic thermodynamic irreversibility does in fact arise from the fundamental laws of quantum dynamics.

The results– now published in the prestigious pages of Physical Review Letters, the leading journal in Physics– have been deemed worthy of an Editors’ Suggestion and a Synopsis, an honour that only a small fraction of the manuscripts accepted to this journal receive in light of their significance and contribution.

This is only the latest result of the intense research activity at QTeQ focusing on the thermodynamics of quantum systems, a field where Queen’s scientists are recognised as leaders and pioneers.


We are a Research Cluster of the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. Our research interests are focused primarily on computational and theoretical physics.

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The Old Physics Building,
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