DEPARTMENT COLLOQUIUM | Irreversibility, Information, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics at the Nanoscale
What do the laws of thermodynamics look like, when applied to microscopic systems such as optically trapped colloidal particles, single molecules manipulated with laser tweezers, and biomolecular machines? In recent years it has become apparent that the fluctuations of small systems far from thermal equilibrium satisfy strong and unexpected laws, which allow us to rewrite familiar inequalities of macroscopic thermodynamics as equalities. These results in turn have spurred a renewed interest in the feedback control of small systems and the closely related Maxwell’s demon paradox. I will describe some of this progress, and will argue that it has refined our understanding of irreversibility, the second law, and the thermodynamic arrow of time.