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Physicist Design Ultra Small Heat Engine Using A Single Atom

Heat engines have been an integral part of the industry, ever since the seventeenth century, when Giovanni Branca demonstrated his steam engine to the world. Thermodynamically speaking, a heat engine is an energy converter which converts heat i.e. thermal energy to mechanical energy. For example, cars and bikes use a diesel or a petrol engine which takes in fuel to produce thermal energy, and then converts it into mechanical work via a spark plug. Recently, scientists have been devoting their time to recreate the fundamental model of the system and this report describes all about such an innovative endeavour undertaken by the Quantum Work Group.

A group of experts led by Professor Kilian Singer, professor at the University of Kassel reinvented the heat engine model in such a way so that its’ operation depends on only a single Calcium atom. The team achieved this design by using a quadrapole ion trap to capture a single atom. The system can be heated using electrically-generated noise, whereas Laser beam treatment helps it to cool down. Owing to this method, the atom goes through a thermodynamic cycle i.e. back and forth inside the trap resulting in similar strokes of an engine.

Vacuum chamber containing atom track

The group performed several experiments on the model to test its thermodynamical behavoiur. The results reported on their paper says that the system can generate 10^-22 watt power and operates at 0.3 percent efficiency. If the electron is further energized, the output increases to the level of a car engine. Johannes Roßnagel, first author of the study explained that the system can be used in a reverse manner by simply changing the cycle and extracting the benefits of a refrigerator.

Although it possesses numerous applications, the team’s main focus is on witnessing the particle level effect of thermodynamics in the nano-scale. The research report was published in the Journal 'Science', and was funded by the German Research Foundation(Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung).

Source: JGU

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