The counterintuitive, complex synchronization state known as a chimera was discovered theoretically a decade ago: In an ensemble of coupled oscillators, two incongruous domains, one synchronized and one desynchronized, can coexist even when the oscillators are identical and the system is symmetric. Chimera states made their laboratory debut last year in a pair of experiments—one with optical oscillators, another with chemical oscillators, both exploiting computer-mediated feedback (see Physics Today, October 2012, page 17). Now, with just springs, swings, and metronomes, a quartet of researchers rooted in the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, Germany, has achieved the first purely mechanical implementation of chimera states.

On the left, 15 metronomes sit on a swing that, through its left–right motion, couples the metronomes to each other. (It was with a similar setup that Christiaan Huygens discovered spontaneous synchronization nearly 350 years ago.) A pair of springs connects...

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