Networks of non-linear electronic oscillators have shown potential as physical models of neural dynamics. However, two properties of brain activity, namely, criticality and metastability, remain under-investigated with this approach. Here, we present a simple circuit that exhibits both phenomena. The apparatus consists of a two-dimensional square lattice of capacitively coupled glow (neon) lamps. The dynamics of lamp breakdown (flash) events are controlled by a DC voltage globally connected to all nodes via fixed resistors. Depending on this parameter, two phases having distinct event rate and degree of spatiotemporal order are observed. The transition between them is hysteretic, thus a first-order one, and it is possible to enter a metastability region, wherein, approaching a spinodal point, critical phenomena emerge. Avalanches of events occur according to power-law distributions having exponents ≈3/2 for size and ≈2 for duration, and fractal structure is evident as power-law scaling of the Fano factor. These critical exponents overlap observations in biological neural networks; hence, this circuit may have value as building block to realize corresponding physical models.

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