Nonequilibrium steady state in open quantum systems: Influence action, stochastic equation and power balance

J. T. Hsiang, B. L. Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The existence and uniqueness of a steady state for nonequilibrium systems (NESS) is a fundamental subject and a main theme of research in statistical mechanics for decades. For Gaussian systems, such as a chain of classical harmonic oscillators connected at each end to a heat bath, and for classical anharmonic oscillators under specified conditions, definitive answers exist in the form of proven theorems. Answering this question for quantum many-body systems poses a challenge for the present. In this work we address this issue by deriving the stochastic equations for the reduced system with self-consistent backaction from the two baths, calculating the energy flow from one bath to the chain to the other bath, and exhibiting a power balance relation in the total (chain + baths) system which testifies to the existence of a NESS in this system at late times. Its insensitivity to the initial conditions of the chain corroborates to its uniqueness. The functional method we adopt here entails the use of the influence functional, the coarse-grained and stochastic effective actions, from which one can derive the stochastic equations and calculate the average values of physical variables in open quantum systems. This involves both taking the expectation values of quantum operators of the system and the distributional averages of stochastic variables stemming from the coarse-grained environment. This method though formal in appearance is compact and complete. It can also easily accommodate perturbative techniques and diagrammatic methods from field theory. Taken all together it provides a solid platform for carrying out systematic investigations into the nonequilibrium dynamics of open quantum systems and quantum thermodynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-169
Number of pages31
JournalAnnals of Physics
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Energy flow relation
  • Influence functional formalism
  • Nonequilibrium steady state
  • Open quantum system
  • Quantum transport
  • Stochastic density matrix


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