News FocusAMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY MEETING

One Cool Way to Erase Information

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Science  08 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6026, pp. 171
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6026.171-a

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Summary

When your computer erases a bit of information—a "0" or a "1" stored in some electronic switch—it must generate a minimum amount of heat. Or so says a principle of thermodynamics. However, a tiny system can sometimes dip below that limit while erasing information, physicists reported at the American Physical Society meeting. The finding won't lead to infinitely cool computers, as on average the tiny bit still obeys the rule. But the exceptional events underscore the importance of fluctuations in very small systems and could point to a mechanism that cells might naturally exploit.