Phase separation in driven granular gases: exploring the elusive character of nonequilibrium steady states
The emergence of patterns and phase separation in many-body systems far from thermal equilibrium is discussed using the example of driven granular gases. It is shown that phase separation follows a similar mechanism as in the systems of active Brownian particles. Depending on the quantities chosen for observation, it may or may not be easy to find functionals analogous to the free energy in equilibrium statistical physics. We argue that although such functionals can always be derived from the dynamics, it is of only limited value for predicting relevant aspects of the nonequilibrium steady state of the system. Consequently, although there is indeed a ‘principle’ governing the selection of collective nonequilibrium steady states (and the corresponding large deviation functional can be identified), it is not generally useful for predicting the behaviour of the system.