Quantum Brownian motion and the Third Law of thermodynamics

P. Hänggi and G.-L. Ingold

Acta Phys. Pol. B 37, 1537–1550 (2006)

The quantum thermodynamic behavior of small systems is investigated in presence of finite quantum dissipation. We consider the archetype cases of a damped harmonic oscillator and a free quantum Brownian particle. A main finding is that quantum dissipation helps to ensure the validity of the Third Law. For the quantum oscillator, finite damping replaces the zero-coupling result of an exponential suppression of the specific heat at low temperatures by a power-law behavior. Rather intriguing is the behavior of the free quantum Brownian particle. In this case, quantum dissipation is able to restore the Third Law: Instead of being constant down to zero temperature, the specific heat now vanishes proportional to temperature with an amplitude that is inversely proportional to the ohmic dissipation strength. A distinct subtlety of finite quantum dissipation is the result that the various thermodynamic functions of the sub-system do not only depend on the dissipation strength but depend as well on the prescription employed in their definition.