Quantum reference frames and their applications to thermodynamics

Sandu Popescu, Ana Belen Sainz, Tony Short, Andreas Winter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
361 Downloads (Pure)


We construct a quantum reference frame, which can be used to approximately implement arbitrary unitary transformations on a system in the presence of any number of extensive conserved quantities, by absorbing any back action provided by the conservation laws. Thus, the reference frame at the same time acts as a battery for the conserved quantities. Our construction features a physically intuitive, clear and implementation-friendly realization. Indeed, the reference system is composed of the same types of subsystems as the original system and is finite for any desired accuracy. In addition, the interaction with the reference frame can be broken down into two-body terms coupling the system to one of the reference frame subsystems at a time. We apply this construction to quantum thermodynamic set-ups with multiple, possibly non-commuting conserved quantities, which allows for the definition of explicit batteries in such cases. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Foundations of quantum mechanics and their impact on contemporary society'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180111
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2123
Early online date28 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2018

Structured keywords

  • Bristol Quantum Information Institute


  • Conservation laws
  • Quantum thermodynamics
  • Reference frames


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