Lu Group @ UNC Chapel Hill

Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics in Chemistry



Living cells harness energy from non-equilibrium surroundings and use energy dissipation to accurately process information, transduce energy, sense adaptively, and make predictions. The dynamics of these systems are far from thermal equilibrium, the linear response regime, or non-equilibrium steady states. Additionally, these systems interact with dissipative and time-varying environments (rather than ideal thermal baths). Thus, they cannot be described by traditional physics theories. My research group aims to use tools from non-equilibrium statistical physics and advanced numerical methods to study the principles of processes in living systems such as energy harvesting from non-equilibrium environments and using energy dissipation to reinforce performance. Additionally, by understanding the temporal dynamics of complex living systems, I aim to design optimal control strategies to temporally manipulate complex systems such as cellular signaling pathways and immune responses.


Soft Intelligent Materials

We seek for a theoretical understanding of the intelligence emerged from life -- how do living cell respond to external signals and process information? What can we learn from living systems to guide our design of intelligent soft matter materials? 


Thermodynamics of Living & Active Systems 

Using stochastic thermodynamics, we study a variety of nonequilibrium processes in living and active artificial systems (e.g. self-replication, information processing, selective transportation, and energy transduction. Our goal is to find the physical limits to their performance.


Complex Kinetic Landscapes

We study the complex dynamics of macromolecules and materials. Typically, the free energy landscapes is used to describe the dynamics of such complex systems. We are interested in developing numerical methods to find the kinetic landscape to capture the non equilibrium dynamics of a given system when it is driven far from equilibrium and where the free energy landscape fails  to provide the correct kinetic information. 




Chase Slowey

Ph.D. Student (Physical Chemistry)

Department of Chemistry

Since 2019


Supraja Chittari

Ph.D. Student (Physical Chemistry)

Department of Chemistry

Since 2020

Joint student with Knight's Group

Image from iOS.jpg

Asawari Pagare

Undergraduate Research Intern

Since 2020

Perspective Ph.D. Student (2021)

(Physical Chemistry)

Department of Chemistry


Sa Hoon Min

Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Chemistry

Since 2020


Zhongmin Zhang

Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Chemistry

Since 2020


Vincent Du

Undergraduate Researcher

Department of Chemistry

Since 2019


Amy Aponte

Rotation Student (Biological Division)

Department of Chemistry

Since 2021


Principle Investigator

Assistant Professor

Department of Chemistry





  1. Z. Lu, H. Qian. "Emergence and Breaking of Duality Symmetry in Thermodynamic Behavior: Repeated Measurements and Macroscopic Limit." arXiv preprint arXiv:2009.12644 (2020).

  2. X. Gao, Y. Jiang, Y. Lin, K.H. Kim, Y. Fang, J. Yi, L. Meng, H.C. Lee, Z. Lu, O. Leddy, R. Zhang, Q. Tu, W. Feng, V. Nair, P. Griffin, F. Shi, G. Shekhawat, A. Dinner, H.G. Park, B.Tian."Structured silicon for revealing transient and integrated signal transductions in microbial systems." Science Advances 6, no. 7 (2020): eaay2760.

  3. Z. Lu*†, C. Jarzynski*†. "A Programmable Mechanical Maxwell’s Demon." Entropy 21, no. 1 (2019): 65. 

  4. W. Zhong, Z. Lu, D. Schwab, A. Murugan. "Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics of Continuous Attractors." Neural Computation 32, no. 6 (2020): 1033-1068.

  5. O. Leddy*, Z. Lu*, A. R. Dinner. "Entropic constraints on the steady-state fitness of competing self-replicators." The Journal of chemical physics 149, no. 22 (2018): 224105.  

  6. W. Pittayakanchit*, Z. Lu*, J. Chew, M. J. Rust, A. Murugan. "Biophysical clocks face a trade-off between internal and external noise resistance." Elife 7 (2018): e37624. 

  7. Z. Lu*†, O. Raz*†, "Nonequilibrium thermodynamics of the Markovian Mpemba effect and its inverse." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 20 (2017): 5083-5088. 

  8. C. Xu, N. Zheng†, L P. Wang, L. Li†, Q. Shi, Z. Lu†. "Self-propulsion of a grain-filled dimer in a vertically vibrated channel." Scientific Reports 7, no. 1 (2017): 1-11.

  9. Z. Lu, D. Mandal, C. Jarzynski, "Engineering Maxwell’s demon." Physics Today 67, no. 8 (2014): 60-61.

  10. F. Liu, H. Xie, Z. Lu, "Generalized integral fluctuation relation with feedback control for diffusion processes." Communications in Theoretical Physics, 62(4), p.571.


*equal authors †co-corresponding authors.