Mini machines can evade friction by taking quantum shortcuts | Science News

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Mini machines can evade friction by taking quantum shortcuts

Such maneuvers help make these tiny engines maximally efficient

By
3:21pm, June 29, 2018
piston illustration

POWER THROUGH  Car engines operate using pistons (illustrated), which convert the heat from burning fuel into motion. Friction decreases the efficiency of such engines, but quantum machines can evade that limitation.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — To evade friction, try taking a quantum shortcut.

Two teams of physicists are building tiny machines designed to operate with the maximum possible efficiency. According to thermodynamics, there’s an ultimate limit to the efficiency of machines known as heat engines — including steam engines and car engines — which convert heat into motion or other types of energy (SN: 3/19/16, p. 18). But real-world engines never reach that maximum efficiency, and often run well below it, because they lose energy to friction.

Now, quantum experiments are circumventing the limitations imposed by friction using specially designed shortcuts. Physicists Adolfo del Campo and Roberto Serra described two separate experiments June 25 and June 28 at the Quantum

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