Topics in equilibrium and nonequilibrium thermodynamics: computing crystalline free energies and engineering Maxwell’s demon.

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This dissertation covers two separate topics in statistical physics.

The first part of the dissertation focuses on computational methods of obtaining the free energies (or partition functions) of crystalline solids. We describe a method to compute the Helmholtz free energy of a crystalline solid by direct evaluation of the partition function. In the many-dimensional conformation space of all possible arrangements of N particles inside a periodic box, the energy landscape consists of localized islands corresponding to different solid phases. Calculating the partition function for a specific phase involves integrating over the corresponding island. Introducing a natural order parameter that quantifies the net displacement of particles from lattices sites, we write the partition function in terms of a one-dimensional integral along the order parameter, and evaluate this integral using umbrella sampling. We validate the method by computing free energies of both face-centered cubic (FCC) and hexagonal close-packed (HCP) hard sphere crystals with a precision of $10^{-5}k_BT$ per particle. In developing the numerical method, we find several scaling properties of crystalline solids in the thermodynamic limit. Using these scaling properties, we derive an explicit asymptotic formula for the free energy per particle in the thermodynamic limit. In addition, we describe several changes of coordinates that can be used to separate internal degrees of freedom from external, translational degrees of freedom.

The second part of the dissertation focuses on engineering idealized physical devices that work as Maxwell's demon. We describe two autonomous mechanical devices that extract energy from a single heat bath and convert it into work, while writing information onto memory registers. Additionally, both devices can operate as Landauer's eraser, namely they can erase information from a memory register, while energy is dissipated into the heat bath. The phase diagrams and the efficiencies of the two models are solved and analyzed. These two models provide concrete physical illustrations of the thermodynamic consequences of information processing.