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UK-Irish team awarded £1.6m to explore the potential of miniature engines

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast are part of UK-Ireland consortium who have been awarded a £1.6m grant to explore the potential of miniature engines to efficiently generate power, manage heat flows and recover wasted energy.

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The UK-Irish consortium QuamNESS, which also includes researchers at the University of Bristol and Trinity College Dublin, will use the EPSRC-SFI (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland) funding to develop novel mathematical tools and powerful simulations to understand the fundamental principles governing the performance of the smallest engines and work towards the engineering of new technologies benefiting of a super-efficient (quantum-enhanced) thermal management. 

Thermodynamics studies the way energy is exchanged between bodies at different temperatures, predicts the likeliness of certain chemical reaction and explains why even the most energy-efficient engine will always produce waste. However, when we consider objects as simple as electrons, atoms or molecules, the laws of quantum mechanics should be used. Only by blending thermodynamics and quantum theory will we be able to provide an accurate description of the way such simple system exchange energy among them. 

This research promises to deliver minuscule machines able to make use of the counter-intuitive laws of quantum mechanics to outperform their classical counterparts. Miniaturised to only handfuls of atoms, these machines will offer highly efficient ways of generating power, managing heat flows and recovering wasted energy in wide-ranging technologies, from microprocessors to chemical reactions. 

Professor Mauro Paternostro from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University Belfast said: “Developing a new framework to unravel these quantum enhancements is of paramount importance and a core objective of our project. Quantum systems are well known to possess counterintuitive properties. Under the right conditions, these strange quantum effects can compete with and radically alter the usual way energy-exchange processes occur in nature. QuamNESS will sharpen our view of this interplay and how it can be harnessed for technological progress and fundamental understanding. 

“This grant is a fantastic opportunity for strengthening the current all-Ireland research environment with a substantial investment in an area of topical relevance.  

Research in quantum technologies in Ireland has been recently enhanced by a series of strategic appointments and the perspectives for a strong North-South collaboration in the quantum technology area are very interesting. They complement important existing ties linking Queen’s and the Tyndall National Institute, a leading European research centre in integrated ICT (Information and Communications Technology) hardware and systems. Hopefully, this award will be a key step towards a full-scale, pan-Irish collaborative framework.” 

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