Non-reciprocal phase transitions

Michel Fruchart, Ryo Hanai, Peter B. Littlewood, Vincenzo Vitelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Citations (Scopus)


Out of equilibrium, a lack of reciprocity is the rule rather than the exception. Non-reciprocity occurs, for instance, in active matter1–6, non-equilibrium systems7–9, networks of neurons10,11, social groups with conformist and contrarian members12, directional interface growth phenomena13–15 and metamaterials16–20. Although wave propagation in non-reciprocal media has recently been closely studied1,16–20, less is known about the consequences of non-reciprocity on the collective behaviour of many-body systems. Here we show that non-reciprocity leads to time-dependent phases in which spontaneously broken continuous symmetries are dynamically restored. We illustrate this mechanism with simple robotic demonstrations. The resulting phase transitions are controlled by spectral singularities called exceptional points21. We describe the emergence of these phases using insights from bifurcation theory22,23 and non-Hermitian quantum mechanics24,25. Our approach captures non-reciprocal generalizations of three archetypal classes of self-organization out of equilibrium: synchronization, flocking and pattern formation. Collective phenomena in these systems range from active time-(quasi)crystals to exceptional-point-enforced pattern formation and hysteresis. Our work lays the foundation for a general theory of critical phenomena in systems whose dynamics is not governed by an optimization principle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-369
Number of pages7
Issue number7854
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2021


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