# Spontaneous symmetry breaking

**Spontaneous symmetry breaking**in physics takes place when a system that is symmetric with respect to some Lie group goes into a vacuum state that is not symmetric. At this point the system no longer appears to behave in a symmetric manner. It is a phenomenon that naturally occurs in many situations.

A common example to help explain this phenomenon is a ball sitting on top of a hill. This ball is in a completely symmetric state. However, it is not a stable one: the ball can easily roll down the hill. At some point, the ball will spontaneously roll down the hill in one direction or another. The symmetry has been broken because the direction the ball rolled down in has now been singled out from other directions.

In physics, one way of seeing spontaneous symmetry breaking is through the use of Lagrangians. Lagrangians, which essentially dictate how a system will behave, can be split up into kinetic and potential terms

as illustrated in the graph. This potential has many possible minimums (vacuum states) given by

In the Standard Model, spontaneous symmetry breaking is accomplished by using the Higgs boson and is responsible for the masses of the W and Z bosons.

## See also

- Catastrophe theory
- Vacuum fluctuation
- Second-order phase transition
- Goldstone Boson