Identifying or constructing a fine-grained microscopic theory that will emerge under specific conditions to a known macroscopic theory is always a formidable challenge. Thermodynamics is perhaps one of the most powerful theories and best understood examples of emergence in physical sciences, which can be used for understanding the characteristics and mechanisms of emergent processes, both in terms of emergent structures and the emergent laws governing the effective or collective variables. Viewing quantum mechanics as an emergent theory requires a better understanding of all this. In this work we aim at a very modest goal, not quantum mechanics as thermodynamics, not yet, but the thermodynamics of quantum systems, or quantum thermodynamics. We will show why even with this minimal demand, there are many new issues which need be addressed and new rules formulated. The thermodynamics of small quantum many-body systems strongly coupled to a heat bath at low temperatures with non-Markovian behavior contains elements, such as quantum coherence, correlations, entanglement and fluctuations, that are not well recognized in traditional thermodynamics, built on large systems vanishingly weakly coupled to a non-dynamical reservoir. For quantum thermodynamics at strong coupling, one needs to reexamine the meaning of the thermodynamic functions, the viability of the thermodynamic relations and the validity of the thermodynamic laws anew. After a brief motivation, this paper starts with a short overview of the quantum formulation based on Gelin & Thoss and Seifert. We then provide a quantum formulation of Jarzynski’s two representations. We show how to construct the operator thermodynamic potentials, the expectation values of which provide the familiar thermodynamic variables. Constructing the operator thermodynamic functions and verifying or modifying their relations is a necessary first step in the establishment of a viable thermodynamics theory for quantum systems. We mention noteworthy subtleties for quantum thermodynamics at strong coupling, such as in issues related to energy and entropy, and possible ambiguities of their operator forms. We end by indicating some fruitful pathways for further developments.
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