4-15 March 2013
Europe/Stockholm timezone

The entropic anomaly

12 Mar 2013, 15:00



Prof. Antonio Celani (CNRS - Institut Pasteur)


Particle motion at the micro-scale is an incessant tug-of-war between thermal fluctuations and applied forces on one side, and the strong resistance exerted by fluid viscosity on the other. Friction is so strong that completely neglecting inertia – the overdamped approximation – gives an excellent effective description of the actual particle mechanics. In sharp contrast with this result, here we show that the overdamped approximation dramatically fails when thermodynamic quantities such as the entropy production in the environment is considered, in presence of temperature gradients. In the limit of vanishingly small, yet finite inertia, we find that the entropy production features a contribution that is anomalous, i.e. has no counterpart in the overdamped approximation. This phenomenon, that we call entropic anomaly, is due to a symmetry-breaking that occurs when moving to the small, finite inertia limit. As a consequence of this phenomenon, quasi-static engines, whose efficiency is maximal in a fluid at uniform temperature, have in fact vanishing efficiency in presence of temperature gradients. For slow cycles the efficiency falls off as the inverse of the period. The maximum efficiency is reached at a finite value of the cycle period that is inversely proportional to the square root of the gradient intensity. The relative loss in maximal efficiency with respect to the thermally homogeneous case grows as the square root of the gradient. As an illustration of these general results, we construct an explicit, analytically solvable example of a Carnot stochastic engine. In this thought experiment, a Brownian particle is confined by a harmonic trap and immersed in a fluid with a linear temperature profile. This example may serve as a template for the design of real experiments in which the effect of the entropic anomaly can be measured. Antonio Celani, Stefano Bo, Ralf Eichhorn, and Erik Aurell, Phys. Rev. Lett. 109, 260603 (2012) Stefano Bo and Antonio Celani, arXiv:1212.1608

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