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Second Law of Thermodynamics at Stopping Times

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number040601
Number of pages5
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Early online date27 Jan 2020
Accepted/In press20 Dec 2019
E-pub ahead of print27 Jan 2020
Published31 Jan 2020


King's Authors


Events in mesoscopic systems often take place at first-passage times, as is for instance the case for a colloidal particle that escapes a metastable state. An interesting question is how much work an external agent has done on a particle when it escapes a metastable state. We develop a thermodynamic theory for processes in mesoscopic systems that terminate at stopping times, which generalize first-passage times. This theory implies a thermodynamic bound, reminiscent of the second law of thermodynamics, for the work exerted by an external protocol on a mesoscopic system at a stopping time. As an illustration, we use this law to bound the work required to stretch a polymer to a certain length or to let a particle escape from a metastable state.

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