Physicists have experimentally demonstrated an information engine—a device that converts information into work—with an efficiency that exceeds the conventional second law of thermodynamics. Instead, the engine’s efficiency is bounded by a recently proposed generalized second law of thermodynamics, and it is the first information engine to approach this new bound.

The results demonstrate both the feasibility of realizing a “lossless” information engine—so-called because virtually none of the available information is lost but is instead almost entirely converted into work—and also experimentally validates the sharpness of the bound set by the generalized second law.

The physicists, Govind Paneru, Dong Yun Lee, Tsvi Tlusty, and Hyuk Kyu Pak at the Institute for Basic Science in Ulsan, South Korea (Tlusty and Pak are also with the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology), have published a paper on the lossless information engine in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

Traditionally, the maximum efficiency with which an engine can convert energy into work is bounded by the second law of thermodynamics. In the past decade, however, experiments have shown that an engine’s efficiency can surpass the second law if the engine can gain information from its surroundings, since it can then convert that information into work. These information engines (or “Maxwell’s demons,” named after the first conception of such a device) are made possible due to a fundamental connection between information and thermodynamics that scientists are still trying to fully understand.

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Source: Information engine operates with nearly perfect efficiency