Information as Fuel Grant Program

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    December 27, 2018 - December 26, 2022

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Region:

    North America

  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Prof. Max Tegmark

Institution: Foundational Questions Institute

In recent decades, researchers have uncovered profound connections among information, computation, thermodynamics, and work extraction d in large-scale systems. Today, we can probe individual atoms and miniscule energy differences with remarkable precision. Such technologies have paved the way for similar advances in the field of non-equilibrium quantum thermodynamics.

Large-scale systems such as steam engines use information to measure and control the flow of a fuel that produces energy to do work. But in non-equilibrium systems—particularly those at nano-scale—information doesn't control the fuel. Instead, it is a form of fuel itself. Taken to its logical conclusion, information could be converted into mechanical work as Maxwell and Szilard hypothesized in the 18th and 19th centuries.

To promote rapid advancement in the field of non-equilibrium quantum thermodynamics, the Fundamental Questions Institute has established a grant program to fund experiments concerning the use of information as fuel in quantum and biological systems. These experiments will address information exchange on a level commensurate with energy, mass, charge, or other quantifiable factors described by the laws of thermodynamics. The researchers will explore questions about information not only in quantum theory but also on a broader philosophical level: How “real“ is information? Where is it held? How is it obtained by “observers,” utilized by “agents,” and related to subjective states such as "understanding”?

Results of the research will have major implications for how information itself is conceived as part of basic physical reality, and how the macroscopic world emerges from the quantum one, or vice versa. The program will consist of collaborations between experimenters and theorists, followed by a major conference and outreach efforts to disseminate the experimental designs and their results.

​Image credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO


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