Experimental demonstration of information-to-energy conversion and validation of the generalized Jarzynski equality
In 1929, Leó Szilárd invented a feedback protocol1 in which a hypothetical intelligence—dubbed Maxwell’s demon—pumps heat from an isothermal environment and transforms it into work. After a long-lasting and intense controversy it was finally clarified that the demon’s role does not contradict the second law of thermodynamics, implying that we can, in principle, convert information to free energy2, 3, 4, 5, 6. An experimental demonstration of this information-to-energy conversion, however, has been elusive. Here we demonstrate that a non-equilibrium feedback manipulation of a Brownian particle on the basis of information about its location achieves a Szilárd-type information-to-energy conversion. Using real-time feedback control, the particle is made to climb up a spiral-staircase-like potential exerted by an electric field and gains free energy larger than the amount of work done on it. This enables us to verify the generalized Jarzynski equality7, and suggests a new fundamental principle of an ‘information-to-heat engine’ that converts information into energy by feedback control.