As you may know, there’s a wonderful and famous analogy between classical mechanics and electrical circuit theory. I explained it back in “week288″, so I won’t repeat that story now. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look!
This analogy opens up the possibility of quantizing electrical circuits by straightforwardly copying the way we quantize classical mechanics problems. I’d often wondered if this would be useful.
It is, and people have done it:
• Michel H. Devoret, Quantum fluctuations in electrical circuits.
Michel Devoret, Rob Schoelkopf and others call this idea quantronics: the study of mesoscopic electronic effects in which collective degrees of freedom like currents and voltages behave quantum mechanically.
I just learned about this from a talk by Sean Barrett here in Coogee. There are lots of cool applications, but right now I’m mainly interested in how this extends the set of analogies between different physical theories.
One interesting thing is how they quantize circuits with resistors. Over in classical mechanics, this corresponds to systems with friction. These systems, called ‘dissipative’ systems, don’t have a conserved energy. More precisely, energy leaks out of the system under consideration and gets transferred to the environment in the form of heat. It’s hard to quantize systems where energy isn’t conserved, so people in quantronics model resistors as infinite chains of inductors and capacitors: see the ‘LC ladder circuit’ on page 15 of Devoret’s notes. This idea is also the basis of the Caldeira–Leggett model of a particle coupled to a heat bath made of harmonic oscillators: it amounts to including the environment as part of the system being studied.