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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

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Asawari Pagare

Ph.D. Student (Physical Chemistry)

Department of Chemistry

Since 2021

(Undergraduate Researcher of the Group Since 2020)


Sa Hoon Min

Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Chemistry

Since 2020


Zhongmin Zhang

Postdoctoral Scholar

Department of Chemistry

Since 2020


Vincent Du

Ph.D. Student (Physical Chemistry)

Department of Chemistry

Since 2022 

(Undergrad Researcher of the Group Since 2019)







Principle Investigator

Assistant Professor

Department of Chemistry

Since 2019




  • Can hot water freeze faster than cold water? Check out the news article in Quanta Magazine!!!

  • Congratulations to Chase Slowey for publishing his anti-equilibrium transportation on Phys. Rev. Research!!!

  • Our research with Collaborator Prof. Hong Qian on the duality symmetry in thermodynamic relations gets published at Phys. Rev. Lett.

  • We appreciate the NSF for the NSF CAREER AWARD support between 2022 and 2027.



  • Congratulations to Chase Slowey for winning the Poster Contest and the Cash Prize at the NC ACS Local Meeting!!! (Nov. 23, 2020)

Group News


  • C. Slowey, Z. Lu. "Sloppy gear mechanism for coupled stochastic transportation: From antiequilibrium flow to kinetic selectivity." Physical Review Research 4 (2022): 023234.  

  • Z. Lu, H. Qian. "Emergence and Breaking of Duality Symmetry in Generalized Fundamental Thermodynamic Relations." Phys. Rev. Lett. 128, (2022): 150603          (see also at arXiv:2009.12644)

  • 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.

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

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

  • 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.  

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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.

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

  • 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. 

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