Letter

Experimental verification of Landauer’s principle linking information and thermodynamics

Received:
Accepted:
Published online:

Abstract

In 1961, Rolf Landauer argued that the erasure of information is a dissipative process1. A minimal quantity of heat, proportional to the thermal energy and called the Landauer bound, is necessarily produced when a classical bit of information is deleted. A direct consequence of this logically irreversible transformation is that the entropy of the environment increases by a finite amount. Despite its fundamental importance for information theory and computer science2,3,4,5, the erasure principle has not been verified experimentally so far, the main obstacle being the difficulty of doing single-particle experiments in the low-dissipation regime. Here we experimentally show the existence of the Landauer bound in a generic model of a one-bit memory. Using a system of a single colloidal particle trapped in a modulated double-well potential, we establish that the mean dissipated heat saturates at the Landauer bound in the limit of long erasure cycles. This result demonstrates the intimate link between information theory and thermodynamics. It further highlights the ultimate physical limit of irreversible computation.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Emmy Noether Program of the DFG (contract no. LU1382/1-1), the Cluster of Excellence Nanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM), DAAD, and the Research Center Transregio 49 of the DFG.

Author information

Author notes

    • Eric Lutz

    Present address: Dahlem Center for Complex Quantum Systems, Freie Universität Berlin, 14195 Berlin, Germany.

Affiliations

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

    • Antoine Bérut
    • , Artak Arakelyan
    • , Artyom Petrosyan
    •  & Sergio Ciliberto
  2. Physics Department and Research Center OPTIMAS, University of Kaiserslautern, 67663 Kaiserslautern, Germany

    • Raoul Dillenschneider
  3. Department of Physics, University of Augsburg, 86135 Augsburg, Germany

    • Eric Lutz

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Contributions

All authors contributed substantially to this work.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric Lutz.

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