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Although we live in a world of constant motion, physicists have focused largely on systems in or near equilibrium. In the past few decades, interest in non-equilibrium systems has increased, spurred by developments that are taking quantum mechanics from fundamental science to practical technology. Physicists are therefore tasked with an important question: what organizing principles do non-equilibrium quantum systems obey? Writing in Nature, Prüfer et al.1, Eigen et al.2 and Erne et al.3 report experiments that provide a partial answer to this question. The studies show, for the first time, that ultracold atomic systems far from equilibrium exhibit universality, in which measurable experimental properties become independent of microscopic details.