Friday, September 20, 2019

Common examples of symmetry breaking

In his beautiful book, Lucifer's Legacy: The Meaning of Asymmetry, Frank Close gives several nice examples of symmetry breaking that make the concept more accessible to a popular audience.

One is shown in the video below. Consider a spherical drop of liquid that hits the flat surface of a liquid. Prior to impact, the system has continuous rotational symmetry about an axis normal to the plane of the liquid and through the centre of the drop. However, after impact, a structure emerges which does not have this continuous rotational symmetry, but rather a discrete rotational symmetry.

Another example that Close gives is illustrated below. Which napkin should a diner take? One on their left or right? Before anyone makes a choice there is no chirality in the system. However, if one diner chooses left others will follow, symmetry is broken and a spontaneous order emerges.

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