Nonequilibrium Quantum Systems: Fluctuations and Interactions

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We explore some aspects of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics of classical and quantum systems. Two chapters are devoted to fluctuation theorems which were originally derived for classical systems. The main challenge in formulating them in quantum mechanics is the fact that fundamental quantities of interest, like work, are defined via the classical concept of a phase space trajectory. We utilize the decoherent histories conceptual framework, in which classical trajectories emerge in quantum mechanics as a result of coarse graining, and provide a first-principles analysis of the nonequilibrium work relation of Jarzynski and Crooks's fluctuation theorem for a quantum system interacting with a general environment based on the quantum Brownian motion (QBM) model. We indicate a parameter range at low temperatures where the theorems might fail in their original form.

Fluctuation theorems of Jarzynski and Crooks for systems obeying classical Hamiltonian dynamics are derived under the assumption that the initial conditions are sampled from a canonical ensemble, even though the equilibrium state of an isolated system is typically associated with the microcanonical ensemble. We address this issue through an exact analysis of the classical Brownian motion model. We argue that a stronger form of ensemble equivalence than usually discussed in equilibrium statistical mechanics is required for these theorems to hold in the infinite environment limit irrespective of the ensemble used, and proceed to prove it for this model. An exact expression for the probability distribution of work is obtained for finite environments.

Intuitively one expects a system to relax to an equilibrium state when brought into contact with a thermal environment. Yet it is important to have rigorous results that provide conditions for equilibration and characterize the equilibrium state. We consider the dynamics of open quantum systems using the Langevin and master equations and rigorously show that under fairly general conditions quantum systems interacting with a heat bath relax to the equilibrium state defined as the reduced thermal state of the system plus environment, even in the strong coupling regime. Our proof is valid to second-order in interaction strength for general systems and exact for the linear QBM model, for which we also show the equivalence of multi-time correlations.

In the final chapter we give a sampling of our investigations into macroscopic quantum phenomena. We work out in detail a specific example of how and under what conditions the center of mass (CoM) coordinate of a macroscopic object emerges as the relevant degree of freedom. Interaction patterns are studied in terms of the couplings they induce between the CoM and relative coordinates of two macroscopic objects. We discuss the implications of these interaction patterns on macroscopic entanglement.