Nature Physics  Letter
Brownian Carnot engine
 I. A. Martínez^{1, 2}^{, n1}
 É. Roldán^{1, 3, 4}^{, n1}
 L. Dinis^{4, 5}^{, }
 D. Petrov^{1}^{, }
 J. M. R. Parrondo^{4, 5}^{, }
 R. A. Rica^{1}^{, }
 Journal name:
 Nature Physics
 Volume:
 12,
 Pages:
 67–70
 Year published:
 DOI:
 doi:10.1038/nphys3518
 Received
 Accepted
 Published online
The Carnot cycle imposes a fundamental upper limit to the efficiency of a macroscopic motor operating between two thermal baths^{1}. However, this bound needs to be reinterpreted at microscopic scales, where molecular biomotors^{2} and some artificial microengines^{3, 4, 5} operate. As described by stochastic thermodynamics^{6, 7}, energy transfers in microscopic systems are random and thermal fluctuations induce transient decreases of entropy, allowing for possible violations of the Carnot limit^{8}. Here we report an experimental realization of a Carnot engine with a single optically trapped Brownian particle as the working substance. We present an exhaustive study of the energetics of the engine and analyse the fluctuations of the finitetime efficiency, showing that the Carnot bound can be surpassed for a small number of nonequilibrium cycles. As its macroscopic counterpart, the energetics of our Carnot device exhibits basic properties that one would expect to observe in any microscopic energy transducer operating with baths at different temperatures^{9, 10, 11}. Our results characterize the sources of irreversibility in the engine and the statistical properties of the efficiency—an insight that could inspire new strategies in the design of efficient nanomotors.
Subject terms:
At a glance
Figures
Main
The Carnot cycle consists of two isothermal processes, where the working substance is respectively in contact with thermal baths at different temperatures T_{h} and T_{c}, connected by two adiabatic processes, where the substance is isolated and heat is not delivered nor absorbed. An external parameter is changed in such a way that the whole cycle is carried out reversibly. Following this scheme, one could devise a progressing miniaturization of a Carnot engine and eventually reproduce the cycle with a single Brownian particle. In fact, a variety of thermodynamic processes and even a complete Stirling cycle have been already implemented in the mesoscale using micromanipulation techniques^{3, 4, 5, 12, 13, 14}. Interestingly, the exchange of energy between the particle and its surrounding environment becomes stochastic at the microscale and yet one can rigorously define work, heat and efficiency, within the framework of the recently developed stochastic thermodynamics^{6, 7}.
The experimental realization of a Carnot cycle with a single Brownian particle has remained elusive owing to the difficulties of implementing an adiabatic process. In particular, it is not clear how to isolate a particle from the surrounding fluid^{15}. A more feasible strategy is to simultaneously change the temperature and the external parameter keeping constant the Shannon entropy of the particle. However, the necessary finetuning of the temperature is an experimental challenge as well. Here we construct a Brownian Carnot engine putting forward an experimental technique that allows precise control of both the effective temperature and the accessible volume of a single microscopic particle (see Methods and refs 16,17,18). We use a particle with an inherent electric charge and apply a noisy electrostatic force that mimics a thermal bath. In this way, we can achieve temperatures ranging from room temperature (no electrostatic force) up to hundreds or even thousands of kelvins, far above the boiling point of water.
The working substance of our engine is a single optically trapped colloidal particle immersed in water^{14}. For small displacements x from the trap equilibrium position, the optical potential is harmonic, U(x, t) = κx(t)^{2}/2, with stiffness κ. The Hamiltonian or total energy of the particle is H = κx^{2}/2 + p^{2}/(2m), with p = m(dx/dt) being the linear momentum of the particle and m the mass of the particle. The conjugated force for the external parameter κ is F_{κ}(t) ≡ ∂H/∂κ = x^{2}(t)/2. As a result, the work necessary to implement a change dκ in the external parameter, dW(t) = F_{κ}(t)dκ, and the heat or energy transfer from the thermal bath to the particle, dQ(t) = dH(t) − dW(t), are fluctuating quantities.
The Carnot cycle is implemented by modifying the stiffness κ and the environment temperature T (Fig. 1a, b) and consists of two isothermal processes (T is kept constant and κ changes, blue and red curves in Fig. 1b) and two adiabatic processes (T and κ change keeping T^{2}/κ constant^{14}, green and magenta curves in Fig. 1b). We measure different thermodynamic quantities (temperature, stiffness, heat, work and Shannon entropy, see Methods) under both equilibrium and nonequilibrium driving (Fig. 1b–d). The effective temperature of the particle is obtained from the average potential energy, T_{part}(t) ≡ κ(t)x(t)^{2}/k, and can differ from the environment temperature T for nonquasistatic protocols. The T_{part} − κ diagram of the engine (Fig. 1b) shows larger fluctuations in the quasistatic equilibrium protocol, because the average is taken over a smaller number of cycles. In the nonequilibrium protocol, the most irreversible steps are the expansions, where the particle remains colder (that is, more confined^{19}) than the environment. As in a macroscopic gas, the expansion is dominated by an entropic force, namely, the tendency of the gas to fill the available space. In the case of the single Brownian particle, the expansion is driven by thermal fluctuations that allow the particle to move farther away from the centre of the trap. On the other hand, the compression is driven by the trap confining force, which allows the particle to react more rapidly and to follow the equilibrium temperature even in fast cycles in the adiabatic compression. In the isothermal compression, however, we observe a fast initial increase of the temperature of the particle due to the increase of the stiffness. The F_{κ} − κ diagram (Fig. 1c) resembles the Clapeyron pressure versus volume diagram of a Carnot cycle performed with an ideal gas^{20}. The T_{part} − S diagram of the particle (Fig. 1d) is a rectangle where all of the entropy changes in the system occur in the two isothermal steps. This diagram also gives information about the nature of the irreversibility for a fast driving (open symbols): the effective temperature of the particle in the isothermal processes suggests the presence of an irreversible flow of energy between the reservoir and the particle, resembling the endoreversible engine introduced by Curzon and Ahlborn^{21, 22}. During a cycle of duration τ, the working substance of the engine exchanges heat with the different thermal baths it is put in contact with, and under appropriate conditions it is able to extract work. We call W_{τ} and Q_{τ} the work exerted on the particle and the heat transferred from the environment to the particle along a cycle, respectively. The exchanged heat equals Q_{τ} = ΔH_{τ} − W_{τ}. Both work and heat along the whole cycle (Fig. 2a) converge to their quasistatic averages ⋅ _{∞} following W_{τ} = W_{∞} + Σ_{ss}/τ (ref. 23). Here, W_{∞} is the quasistatic value of the work done per cycle and the term Σ_{ss}/τ accounts for the (positive) dissipation, which decays to zero like 1/τ (ref. 24). In the case of the average heat per cycle, Q_{τ}, we find that the dissipative term is negative, that is, Q_{τ} = Q_{∞} − Σ_{ss}/τ with Σ_{ss} > 0.
To quantify the performance of the engine, we analyse its power output and efficiency. First, we measure the power output as the mean total work exchanged during a cycle divided by the total duration of the cycle (Fig. 2b), P_{τ} = −W_{τ}/τ. For τ = 10 ms, W_{τ} is positive, the particle behaves as a heat pump and the power is negative. For larger values of τ the power increases, becoming positive, and eventually reaches a maximum value P_{max} = 6.34 kT_{c} s^{−1}. Above that maximum, P_{τ} decreases monotonically when increasing the cycle length. The data of P_{τ} versus τ fit well to the expected law P_{τ} = −(W_{∞} + Σ_{ss}/τ)/τ. The efficiency is given by the ratio between the extracted work and the input of heat, which is usually considered as the heat flowing from the hot thermal bath to the system. In our experiment, however, there is a nonzero fluctuating heat in the adiabatic steps, which must be taken into account in the definition of the stochastic efficiency of the engine during a finite number of cycles. Here we will consider this heat as input (see Methods for alternative definitions of the efficiency). We define W_{τ}^{(i)} as the sum of the total work exerted on the particle along i ≥ 1 cycles of duration τ, and Q_{α, τ}^{(i)} as the sum over i cycles of the heat transferred to the particle in the αth subprocess (α = 1,2,3,4, see Fig. 1). We therefore introduce the following definition of stochastic efficiency:
The longterm efficiency of the motor is given by η_{τ} ≡ η_{τ}^{(i)} with i ∞. In the quasistatic limit, the average heat in the adiabatic processes vanishes yielding η_{∞} = η_{C} ≡ 1 − T_{c}/T_{h} ≃ 0.43 (Fig. 2b). Moreover, the standard efficiency at maximum power, η^{∗} ≃ (0.25 ± 0.05), is in agreement with the Curzon–Ahlborn expression for finitetime cycles (refs 21,25).
Very recently, much attention has been drawn to the statistical properties of the efficiency of stochastic engines. Using fluctuation theorems, it was shown that the probability density function (PDF) of the efficiency of an autonomous or symmetrically driven engine has a local minimum precisely at the Carnot value η_{C} (ref. 26). For nonsymmetric driving protocols, such as our Carnot cycle, there are several theoretical predictions concerning the PDF as well as the large deviation function of the stochastic efficiency^{10, 11}. To test some of these predictions, we measure the PDF ρ_{τ, i}(η) of the stochastic efficiency η_{τ}^{(i)} (Methods). Close to equilibrium, near the maximum power output of the engine, the distribution is bimodal when summing over several cycles^{9, 11} (Fig. 3). Indeed, local maxima of ρ_{τ, i}(η) appear above standard efficiency for large values of i. Another universal feature tested here is that the tails of the distribution follow a power law, ρ_{τ, i}(η ± ∞) ~ η^{−2} (inset of Fig. 3)^{11, 27}. In the Supplementary Information, we discuss in detail and provide further experimental tests of other universal properties of the PDF and the large deviation function of the stochastic efficiency. We have realized the first Brownian Carnot engine with a single microscopic particle as a working substance that is able to transform the heat transferred from thermal fluctuations into mechanical work, characterizing both its mean behaviour and fluctuations. At slow driving, our engine attains the fundamental limit of Carnot efficiency. The maximum power performed by our engine is ~250 larger than that of previous microengines^{3} and only one order of magnitude below the power developed by some biological molecular motors such as myosin^{2}. Our results could be exploited in the design of new biologically inspired nanoengines^{28} or artificial nanorobots^{29}. In vacuum, trapping techniques could benefit from our study of the efficiency fluctuations to build engines capable of outperforming Carnot efficiency^{30, 31, 32}.
Methods
Experimental setup.
Polystyrene microspheres of diameter 1 μm (G. KiskerProducts for Biotechnology) are diluted in deionized and filtered water to a final concentration of a few spheres per millilitre. The spheres are inserted into a custommade electrophoretic fluid chamber with two electrodes. A Gaussian white noise signal is generated with an independent generator (Tabor electronics, WW1071). The external noise is modulated by a custommade voltage multiplier (100 kHz bandwidth) with a signal (V_{T}) generated by a dual generator (Tabor electronics, dual channel WW5062). The output signal of the multiplier is amplified 1,000 times with a highvoltage power amplifier (TREK, 623B) before being applied to the electrodes.
The optical potential is generated by a 980 nm laser beam which is inserted through an oil immersion objective (Nikon, CFI PL FL × 100 NA 1.30) into the fluid chamber. The detection of the motion of the particle is achieved by an additional 532 nm laser beam that is passed through the trapping objective. The forward scattered light is collected by an additional microscope objective (×10, NA = 0.10), and its back focalplane field distribution is analysed by a quadrant position detector (New Focus 2911) at an acquisition rate of 2 kHz. A laser controller (Arroyo Instruments 4210) allows the management of the optical power at a maximum rate of 250 kHz using an external voltage V_{κ}. The trap stiffness depends linearly on the optical power and can be controlled at the same rate as it. The signal sent to the laser controller (V_{κ}) is also generated by the dual generator, and is hence synchronized with V_{T}.
Experimental protocol.
The electronic control of the protocol allows us to implement it at different cycle times without loss of resolution, ranging from τ = 10 ms to τ = 200 ms, during τ_{exp} = 50 s. For simplicity, we impose a timesymmetric protocol for the stiffness, {κ(t)}_{t=0}^{τ} with κ(t) = κ(τ − t). The stiffness increases quadratically with time from t = 0 to t = τ/2 and decreases at the same rate from τ/2 to τ. We fix the minimum and maximum values of the stiffness, κ_{I} = κ(0) = (2.0 ± 0.2) pN μm^{−1} and κ_{III} = κ(τ/2) = (20.0 ± 0.2) pN μm^{−1} respectively. For convenience, we define κ_{II} = κ(τ/4) = (6.5 ± 0.2) pN μm^{−1}. The geometry of the Carnot cycle imposes the value of κ_{IV} = (κ_{III}/κ_{II})κ_{I} = κ(τ^{∗}) = (6.2 ± 0.2) pN μm^{−1}, where τ^{∗} yields . The temperature of the particle remains constant at the isothermal steps: T_{I} = T_{II} = T_{c} = 300 K during t ∈ [0, τ/2] and T_{III} = T_{IV} = T_{h} = 525 K during t ∈ [τ/2, τ^{∗}]. Along the adiabatic steps, the temperature changes smoothly while T^{2}(t)/κ(t) remains constant to ensure that the total Shannon entropy of the system is conserved^{14, 33}.
Data analysis.
For each cycle of duration τ, we sample the position of the bead with respect to the centre along the x axis set by the direction of the external field. In all cases, we measure trajectories of the position {x_{t}}_{t=0}^{τ} with sampling rate 2 kHz (Δt = 5 ms) along τ_{exp} = 50 s. The stochastic work exerted to the particle in the interval of time [t, t + Δt] in a single realization is given by
where ° denotes the Stratonovich product (ref. 6) and F_{κ}(x_{t}, t) = ∂U(x_{t}, t)/∂κ_{t} = x_{t}^{2}/2 is the generalized force conjugated to the control parameter κ. The stochastic heat transferred in [t, t + Δt] from the effective thermal bath to the particle is calculated using the first law of thermodynamics:
where dU_{t} = (1/2)(κ_{t+Δt}x_{t+Δt}^{2} − κ_{t}x_{t}^{2}) is the change in potential energy, dE_{kin, t} = (m/2)(v_{t+Δt}^{2} − v_{t}^{2}) is the kinetic energy change, and dW_{t} is given by equation (2). Equation (3) equals Sekimoto’s celebrated expression for microscopic heat^{6}. Both work and heat along the elementary processes in the cycle are calculated by summing the contributions of equations (2) and (3) from the beginning to the end of the process. The kinetic energy of the particle (of mass m and friction coefficient γ) at time t, v_{t}, is calculated from the timeaveraged velocity at time t, :
where is a correction factor that depends on the acquisition frequency f = 1/Δt and on the physical parameters of the system at time t:
where f_{p} = γ/m, f_{κ} = κ_{t}/2πγ, and (refs 13,14).
The Shannon entropy of the particle at time t, S_{t}, is measured as the sum of the positional and kinetic entropy, S_{t} = S_{x, t} + S_{v, t}. Here, S_{x, t} = −k∫ dx_{t} ρ(x_{t}, t)lnρ(x_{t}, t), where ρ(x_{t}, t) is the PDF to observe trajectories that pass through x_{t} at time t along the experiment. The distribution ρ(x_{t}, t) is estimated from the histogram of x_{t} using a regular binning of 25 bins in the interval [−3σ(x_{t}), 3σ(x_{t})], with σ(x_{t}) being the standard deviation of the position at time t. The same procedure is applied to determine S_{v, t} = −k∫ dv_{t} ρ(v_{t}, t)lnρ(v_{t}, t), binning in the interval [−3σ(v_{t}), 3σ(v_{t})] in this case, with v_{t} being determined using equations (4) and (5).
For a given cycle of duration τ, we first calculate the distribution of η_{τ}^{(i)} for i = [1,2,3, …, 400] cycles. For each value of i, the PDFρ(η^{(i)}) is estimated as follows: we first compute the values of η_{τ}^{(i)} (equation (1) in the main text) along the experiment as the ratio of the work summed over i consecutive cycles over the heat summed over the same i cycles. This procedure is repeated along all of the cycles of the experiment. The distributions shown in Fig. 3 are calculated using a kernel density routine in MATLAB R2013a by partitioning the data in regular bins ranging from −5η_{C} to 5η_{C} of width 0.02η_{C}. The tails of the distribution (inset of Fig. 3) are sampled using a binning of width 0.4η_{C}.
Efficiency fluctuations in the quasistatic limit.
The traditional definition of efficiency for a heat engine operating between two thermal baths is the ratio between work extracted in the cycle and heat absorbed during the hot isothermal,
If heat is exchanged during other steps different from isothermals, even if only because of fluctuations, it may be relevant to reflect this in the efficiency. Thus, these two other definitions for the efficiency are possible:
For example, η_{τ}^{2, (i)} is the type of efficiency usually considered when the heat in step 2 (the step just before the hot isothermal expansion) is exchanged with the hot bath, as in the microscopic Stirling motor^{3} (with step 2 corresponding to the isochoric heating in this case).
The corresponding longterm efficiencies are obtained with the limits i ∞ and τ ∞:
where W_{∞} = lim_{i→∞}(W_{∞}^{(i)}/i), and the same for the heat. Theoretically, these three definitions of longterm efficiency converge to Carnot efficiency, as heat exchanges in the adiabatic steps vanish on average. However, the experimental longterm efficiencies do not coincide for large τ (data not shown). Carnot efficiency is approached best by η_{3} in the quasistatic limit. This can be understood by noting that η_{3} is the quantity with the smallest fluctuations around η_{C} of the three in this limit. Thus, when averaging over a finite number of cycles this approaches Carnot efficiency faster.
We can analyse the fluctuations of η_{3} in the quasistatic limit by noting that the work is delta distributed. Then, the denominator in η_{3} can be expressed using the first law applied to the process 2 3 4, as
where W is the total work in the cycle and W_{1} is work in the cold isothermal, both deterministic quantities. Here I and II refer to the initial and final state of the system during the subprocess 1. This yields
where H_{II}–H_{I} is the total energy difference between the initial and final state in the cold isothermal and is the only fluctuating quantity in the expression. The quasistatic averages of the work in the cold isothermal and in the cycle are equal to
and then
The distribution of the internal energy change is given by
with β_{c} = 1/kT_{c}. From this, we can compute the variance of H_{I} − H_{II}, which reads
This gives a variance for η_{3} of
and for the relative fluctuation
Equivalently, the variance of η_{1} in the quasistatic limit reads
Fluctuations on η_{1} are a factor T_{h}/T_{c} stronger than those of η_{3} and values for η_{1} computed from averages of a small finite number of cycles will in general be less reliable than those of η_{3}. When considering the intermediate case of η_{2}, the variance can be shown to be equal to
Our theoretical results predict that the width of the longterm efficiencies satisfy Δη_{3} ≲ Δη_{2} Δη_{1}, which indicates than when estimating efficiencies η_{3} is expected to have the least experimental error associated with fluctuations.
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Acknowledgements
I.A.M., É.R., D.P. and R.A.R. acknowledge financial support from Fundació Privada Cellex Barcelona. I.A.M., D.P. and R.A.R. acknowledge financial support from grant NanoMQ (FIS201124409, MINECO). I.A.M. acknowledges financial support from the European Research Council Grant OUTEFLUCOP. É.R., L.D. and J.M.R.P. acknowledge financial support from grant ENFASIS (FIS201122644, MINECO) and TerMic (FIS201452486R, MINECO). We wish to acknowledge the work of S. Corcuff at the earliest stage of the project and fruitful discussions with R. Brito. D. Petrov passed away on 3 February 2014. He initiated the development of this project while he was the leader of the Optical Tweezers group at ICFO. We mourn the loss of a great colleague and friend.
Author information
Author footnotes
These authors contributed equally to this work.
 I. A. Martínez &
 É. Roldán
Affiliations

ICFOInstitut de Ciències Fotòniques, Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, 08860 Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain
 I. A. Martínez,
 É. Roldán,
 D. Petrov &
 R. A. Rica

Laboratoire de Physique, École Normale Supérieure, CNRS UMR5672 46 Allée d’Italie, 69364 Lyon, France
 I. A. Martínez

Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Nöthnitzer Str. 38 01187 Dresden, Germany
 É. Roldán

GISCGrupo Interdisciplinar de Sistemas Complejos, 28040 Madrid, Spain
 É. Roldán,
 L. Dinis &
 J. M. R. Parrondo

Departamento de Fisica Atómica, Molecular y Nuclear, Universidad Complutense Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
 L. Dinis &
 J. M. R. Parrondo
Contributions
I.A.M. designed the experiment, obtained all experimental data and analysed experimental data. É.R. designed the experiment, analysed experimental data and supported theoretical aspects. L.D. supported theoretical aspects. D.P. proposed and established the project, and supervised the experiment. J.M.R.P. proposed and established the project and developed its theoretical aspects. R.A.R. supported and supervised the experiment. All authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.
Competing financial interests
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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