One paper on the arxiv that I need to read more closely: cond-mat/0701728, Sukhorukov et al., Conditional statistics of electron transport in interacting nanoscale conductors. This paper, a collaboration between Rochester, Geneva, and ETH Zurich, looks at the noise properties of transport through a quantum dot in the presence of a charge detector, in this case a quantum point contact (QPC). A QPC is a constriction in a 2d electron gas with a width modulated by gates. If the QPC is tweaked such that it's right on the boundary of pinching off a transverse electronic mode, its conductance can depend strongly on the local charge environment, which acts like an extra gate. By monitoring the conductance of the QPC, the authors can watch tunneling events in the capacitively coupled quantum dot. The presence of an electron on the dot reduces the conductance of the QPC. Like most of the very pretty work to come out of Enslinn's group at ETH, the quantum dot and QPC are defined through local AFM-based surface oxidation of a shallow 2d electron gas in a GaAs/AlGaAs heterostructure. What I don't understand about this paper is a statement in the introduction: "An important property of the QPC charge detector is its noninvasiveness: the system physically affects the detector, not visa-versa." Strictly speaking, this just can't be right. If the quantum dot is capacitively coupled to the QPC sufficiently to modulate the QPC current flow, there has to be back-action of the QPC on the dot charge. While that interaction may be small, it can't be nonexistent, as far as I can see.
An unrelated anecdote: some of you may remember this post, where I talked about Steorn, an Irish company that took out a full-page ad in the Economist magazine looking for scientists to act as a "jury" of some sort and evaluate their "free energy" machine. Well, it would appear that Steorn did manage to find some scientists willing to act as a "jury", whatever that means, and will release some sort of report of their findings this Friday. I actually did communicate with Steorn last fall; while they had some interest in talking to me, they did not come close to answering my questions about how their jury process was supposed to work (e.g., would scientists actually be able to play with the gadget in an off-site laboratory; did Steorn really mean that their machine produced energy, or were they trying to finesse conventional jargon by talking about "coefficients of performance greater than one" (which may mean nothing for a refrigerator, for example)). I'm willing to wager that they have not discovered a loophole in the first law of thermodynamics. It will be interesting to hear what they report, and whether any actual scientists would be willing to stand up and back Steorn's claims.
Update: Sean McCarthy of Steorn informs me that my comments above are inaccurate, and that, indeed, their evaluation will be based on tests specified by their "jury" in an independent laboratory. My apologies for any confusion. This was not clear to me last fall, and I haven't been following this in the interim. I should also point out that my interactions with them were entirely cordial and businesslike.
I reiterate, though, that I think there is zero chance that these folks have been able to circumvent conservation of energy. If they have, I will happily eat my words, as this would be the biggest science story of the century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.