Fluctuations When Driving Between Nonequilibrium Steady States
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1007/s10955-017-1822-y
Maintained by environmental fluxes, biological systems are thermodynamic processes that operate far from equilibrium without detailed-balanced dynamics. Yet, they often exhibit well defined nonequilibrium steady states (NESSs). More importantly, critical thermodynamic functionality arises directly from transitions among their NESSs, driven by environmental switching. Here, we identify the constraints on excess heat and dissipated work necessary to control a system that is kept far from equilibrium by background, uncontrolled “housekeeping” forces. We do this by extending the Crooks fluctuation theorem to transitions among NESSs, without invoking an unphysical dual dynamics. This and corresponding integral fluctuation theorems determine how much work must be expended when controlling systems maintained far from equilibrium. This generalizes thermodynamic feedback control theory, showing that Maxwellian Demons can leverage mesoscopic-state information to take advantage of the excess energetics in NESS transitions. We also generalize an approach recently used to determine the work dissipated when driving between functionally relevant configurations of an active energy-consuming complex system. Altogether, these results highlight universal thermodynamic laws that apply to the accessible degrees of freedom within the effective dynamic at any emergent level of hierarchical organization. By way of illustration, we analyze a voltage-gated sodium ion channel whose molecular conformational dynamics play a critical functional role in propagating action potentials in mammalian neuronal membranes.