• WordNet 3.6
    • adj metastable (of physical systems) continuing in its present state of equilibrium unless sufficiently disturbed to pass to a more stable state of equilibrium
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Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    • metastable In phys. ehem., having a stability of such sort that a minute impressed change of conditions may produce a disturbance not proportional to the impressed change. Pure water in a smooth vessel may be cooled a few degrees below the freezing-point without the formation of ice. The water is then in a metastable condition. If a hundredth of a grain of ice at the temperature of the freezing-point be brought in contact with the water, a certain fraction of it becomes ice, while the temperature of the whole rises to the freezing-point; and if ten or a thousand grains of ice be used, the fraction frozen and the final temperature are precisely the same. A somewhat closely analogous condition in mechanics is called an unstable equilibrium; but the word equilibrium, in chemistry, has been applied to the permanence of a given relation between two or more substances and cannot consistently be applied to the stability of a single substance.
    • metastable In thermodynamics, in a state intermediate between stable equilibrium and unstable equilibrium, but approaching stability as nearly as the conditions will permit.
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In literature:

This may be regarded as a metastic, or shifting disease; first one part, and then another, seems to be affected.
"Cattle and Their Diseases" by Robert Jennings
It's a metastable state at best, all too likely to collapse into tyranny.
"The Sensitive Man" by Poul William Anderson
Metastable triple point, 38.
"The Phase Rule and Its Applications" by Alexander Findlay

In science:

Such phenomena are a consequence of the presence of many metastable states (involved in the dynamics), and more systematic analyses that clarify their role and substantiate the symmetry arguments are worthwhile.
Critical Hysteresis from Random Anisotropy
A number of results may be deduced from the form of the corrected action Seff, metastable .
Critical Hysteresis from Random Anisotropy
This reflects the non-equilibrium nature of the trajectory, chosen among many metastable states generated by the disorder.
Critical Hysteresis from Random Anisotropy
We emphasize that this picture is a direct consequence of metastability.
Critical Hysteresis from Random Anisotropy
Semerjian, G. and Monasson, R. (2003) Relaxation and metastability in a local search procedure for the random satisfiability problem, Phys.
On large deviation properties of Erdos-Renyi random graphs
One important and unusual feature of a fluctuation driven first order transition is that the disordered phase remains metastable at all temperatures [13, 34].
First order isotropic - smectic-A transition in liquid crystal-aerosil gels
Although the fixed points are stable, they can be thought to represent the metastable states of the system in the sense that they are local minima of energy.
Random Field Ising Model
These conditions fit a wide class of complex magnetic materials that have a large number of metastable states separated from each other by barriers much larger than the available thermal energy.
Random Field Ising Model
Towards a rigorous molecular theory of metastability.
One-dimensional random field Kac's model: localization of the phases
Metastability and convergence to equilibrium for the random field Curie–Weiss model. J.
A representation of Gibbs measure for the random energy model
To perform their job in an effective way LES interact strongly only with their complementary structures, avoiding the formation of metastable states.
Simple models of protein folding and of non--conventional drug design
The prototype model for hysteresis and avalanches in athermal FOPT is the 3D-Random Field Ising Model (RFIM) at T = 0 with metastable dynamics .
Driving rate effects in avalanche-mediated, first-order phase transitions
The first inequality is guaranteed because as soon as one avalanche starts, H is kept constant until the system reaches a new metastable state.
Driving rate effects in avalanche-mediated, first-order phase transitions
It consists of increasing the external field H by a certain step ∆H and keeping it fixed until a new metastable situation is reached.
Driving rate effects in avalanche-mediated, first-order phase transitions
Buckman, Hollow fi bre guides for metastable hellium atoms, C. R.
Broken Symmetry and Coherence of Molecular Vibrations in Tunnel Transitions