Inferring broken detailed balance in the absence of observable currents

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Identifying dissipation is essential for understanding the physical mechanisms underlying nonequilibrium processes. In living systems, for example, the dissipation is directly related to the hydrolysis of fuel molecules such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Nevertheless, detecting broken time-reversal symmetry, which is the hallmark of dissipative processes, remains a challenge in the absence of observable directed motion, flows, or fluxes. Furthermore, quantifying the entropy production in a complex system requires detailed information about its dynamics and internal degrees of freedom. Here we introduce a novel approach to detect time irreversibility and estimate the entropy production from time-series measurements, even in the absence of observable currents. We apply our technique to two different physical systems, namely, a partially hidden network and a molecular motor. Our method does not require complete information about the system dynamics and thus provides a new tool for studying nonequilibrium phenomena.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. I.A.M. and J.M.R.P. acknowledge funding from the Spanish Government through grants TerMic (FIS2014-52486-R) and Contract (FIS2017-83709-R). I.A.M. acknowledges funding from Juan de la Cierva program. G.B. acknowledges the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program. J.M.H. is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as a Physics of Living Systems Fellow through Grant No. GBMF4513.
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