Nonequilibrium phase transitions are routinely observed in both natural and synthetic systems. The ubiquity of these transitions highlights the conspicuous absence of a general theory of phase coexistence that is broadly applicable to both nonequilibrium and equilibrium systems. Here, we present a general mechanical theory for phase separation rooted in ideas explored nearly a half-century ago in the study of inhomogeneous fluids. The core idea is that the mechanical forces within the interface separating two coexisting phases uniquely determine coexistence criteria, regardless of whether a system is in equilibrium or not. We demonstrate the power and utility of this theory by applying it to active Brownian particles, predicting a quantitative phase diagram for motility-induced phase separation in both two and three dimensions. This formulation additionally allows for the prediction of novel interfacial phenomena, such as an increasing interface width while moving deeper into the two-phase region, a uniquely nonequilibrium effect confirmed by computer simulations. The self-consistent determination of bulk phase behavior and interfacial phenomena offered by this mechanical perspective provide a concrete path forward toward a general theory for nonequilibrium phase transitions.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - 2023|
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