Network experiment demonstrates converse symmetry breaking

F. Molnar, T. Nishikawa, and A.E. Motter,
Nature Physics (2020), doi:10.1038/s41567-019-0742-y.

Symmetry breaking—the phenomenon in which the symmetry of a system is not inherited by its stable states—underlies pattern formation, superconductivity and numerous other effects. Recent theoretical work has established the possibility of converse symmetry breaking, a phenomenon in which the stable states are symmetric only when the system itself is not. This includes scenarios in which interacting entities are required to be non-identical in order to exhibit identical behaviour, such as in reaching consensus. Here we present an experimental demonstration of this phenomenon. Using a network of alternating-current electromechanical oscillators, we show that their ability to achieve identical frequency synchronization is enhanced when the oscillators are tuned to be suitably non-identical and that converse symmetry breaking persists for a range of noise levels. These results have implications for the optimization and control of network dynamics in a broad class of systems whose function benefits from harnessing uniform behaviour.