• 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