Graphic abstract

Colloidal heat engines: a review


Stochastic heat engines can be built using colloidal particles trapped using optical tweezers. Here we review recent experimental realizations of microscopic heat engines. We first revisit the theoretical framework of stochastic thermodynamics that allows to describe the fluctuating behavior of the energy fluxes that occur at mesoscopic scales, and then discuss recent implementations of the colloidal equivalents to the macroscopic Stirling, Carnot and steam engines. These small-scale motors exhibit unique features in terms of power and efficiency fluctuations that have no equivalent in the macroscopic world. We also consider a second pathway for work extraction from colloidal engines operating between active bacterial reservoirs at different temperatures, which could significantly boost the performance of passive heat engines at the mesoscale. Finally, we provide some guidance on how the work extracted from colloidal heat engines can be used to generate net particle or energy currents, proposing a new generation of experiments with colloidal systems.

Soft Matter, 2017,13, 22-36