UK-Irish consortium awarded £1.6m to research quantum thermodynamics

4 Aug 2020

A sculpture on the grounds of Trinity College Dublin. Image: © Alfredo/

Researchers at TCD, Queen’s and Bristol will look to gain an understanding of quantum thermodynamics in the smallest possible engines.

UK-Irish consortium QuamNess has been awarded £1.6m to unveil the secrets of quantum thermodynamics. The grant was awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The consortium, which is comprised of researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), University of Bristol (UB) and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), aims to explore the thermodynamics of quantum machines and technologies.

One of the pillars of natural sciences, thermodynamics looks at how energy is exchanged between bodies at different temperatures and can help predict the likeliness of certain chemical reactions. The discipline can explain why even the most energy-efficient engine will always produce waste.

QuamNess will study what happens when these processes involve nanoscale systems such as electrons, atoms and simple molecules, where quantum mechanics comes into play. To provide an accurate description of energy-exchange processes occurring at microscopic scales, thermodynamics has to be blended with a quantum framework.

‘Technology is being miniaturised at an unprecedented rate’

The consortium said that new research in this area could deliver minuscule devices that are able to make use of the counter-intuitive laws of quantum mechanics to outperform their classical counterparts.

Miniaturised to only handfuls of atoms, these machines could offer highly efficient ways of generating power, managing heat flows and recovering wasted energy in wide-ranging technologies from microprocessors to chemical reactions.

The researchers plan to develop novel mathematical tools and powerful simulation methods to understand the fundamental principles behind the performance of the smallest possible engines.

With £1.6m in funding from the EPSRC-SFI grant, the consortium aims to work towards building a fully fledged understanding of how to engineer new technologies that benefit from super-efficient, quantum-enhanced thermal management.

Dr John Goold, assistant professor in TCD’s School of Physics and founder of the QuSys group, said: “Technology is being miniaturised at an unprecedented rate and we can no longer ignore the counter-intuitive effects of quantum mechanics.

“This leads to both deep and pragmatic scientific questions that this research will aim to address and I am extremely excited about the opportunity to work with both Prof [Mauro] Paternostro (QUB) and Dr Stephen Clark (UB) since they are two of my most longstanding collaborators.

“More importantly, this research award represents an important and natural reinforcement of both Irish-UK and north-south research collaborations in the post-Brexit environment.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic