From The Other Wiki
, "Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element. While all isotopes of a given element share the same number of protons, each isotope differs from the others in its number of neutrons." Isotopes can have different nuclear, chemical or biological properties, such as rates of radioactive decay (half-lives), or the amount of potential nuclear energy that could be provided by a fission or fusion reaction. Other kinds of structural variations exist: isomers, compounds with the same molecular formula but different structural formulas, and other isoplats (compounds or elements that are modified in some way), and different crystal structures, for example, of water (see the Cat's Cradle
example below, in Literature
That's Real Life
. In fiction-land, isotopes and other structural variants of mundane elements are a way to handwave the unusual properties of made-up substances. Superweapons and other energy-intensive technologies frequently lack a sufficient Real Life
power source. Fortunately, SCIENCE! has an answer: just alter the structure slightly, and you can turn regular old dish soap into Unobtainium
or Green Rocks
. This is especially useful for Big Bads
without Time Travel
or Casual Interstellar Travel
, who are thus limited to Present Day
Earth or a similar, relatively mundane setting. Combining two or more mundane substances into a compound with fantastic properties in another common variation.
The mundane element that the phlebotinumized derivative is derived from could be a real element, but it doesn't have to be. It's probably better if it's not
Often leads to a What Do You Mean, It's Phlebotinum?
Does not cover even more powerful derivatives of already powerful Phlebotinum, Green Rocks
, etc., like Dilithium Crystals in Star Trek
or Naquadria in Star Gate SG 1
. Does, however, cover examples of superpowered derivatives of fictional substances which are still considered "mundane" in the setting.
Anime and Manga
- In an episode of The New Adventures of Speed Racer, the heroes couldn't understand why someone would be after a rare, but completely useless mineral. Then a lab accident revealed that a combination of seawater and heat can turn it into another mineral, used for stealth jet coating and worth thousands per gram.
- The Golden Age Flash supposedly got his speed powers from inhaling the fumes from "hard water" (which exists in real life, but does not have the fantastic properties portrayed in the source material). The way it was presented, the writer obviously thought he was making up a new type of water and didn't know that "hard water" already meant something in Real Life (which doesn't, incidentally, have fumes). It still counts, though, because it's a superpowered derivative of water, and water is a mundane substance.
- "Hard water" of course also has a real life meaning which has nothing to do with superpowers (it refers to water with too many dissolved minerals, particularly the kind that cause trouble when doing laundry). In Real Life, Hard Water does not have fumes.
- Adamantium, the nigh-indestructable material in Wolverine's claws, is typically said to be an alloy of existing metals, including iron.
- Adamantium is described in the comics as an alloy of ordinary metals. The detailed description of the structure varies, but at least on one occasion it has been described as iron with the atoms arranged in diamond form (the relationship between iron and Adamantium being analogous to the relationship between carbon and diamond.
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty "rewards" someone for helping him by giving them a formula for transparent aluminum while stranded in the year 1985, since the Enterprise crew need it to contain the whales inside their stolen Bird-of-Prey. He reasons away the fact that he's giving away this advanced technology too early in the timeline by pointing out, "How do we know he didn't invent the thing?"
- Ice-9 from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, is itself an example of this technique being used to turn something mundane and relatively harmless (regular old ice), into the catalyst for a superweapon (it is a different crystal structure, which catalyzes the transformation of any water it touches into a form of ice that can basically never melt). It ends civilization as we know it.
- In his Pulp Magazine incarnation, the Green Lama used a radioactively-altered version of table salt to give himself heightened bioelectric energy (which he combined with Pressure Points for various effects)...and make him immune to harmful radiation.
- Fringe: Amphilicite, the substance that David Robert Jones used to rip holes in the frikkin' universe, is apparently created by changing the chemical structure of a rather common mineral.
- In other episodes, it's revealed that because of the ongoing contact between two parallel universes, the laws of physics in both universes have been altered, creating "soft spots" and other oddities, such in one episode when a scientist combined two heavy metals and was able to produce anti-gravity phenomenon as an unpredicted result.
- Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) features Tylium, a mineral substance that is mined from asteroids and refined from a mineral into a liquid that somehow provides the energy necessary to power jump drives.
- Star Trek Series:
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Naked Time". On an ancient, dying ice planet suffering from severe changes in physical laws (gravity, mass and magnetic fields) due to its own disintegration, water is somehow changed into a complex chain of molecules- polywater- which also has virus-like properties. If it infects human beings it acts like alcohol, reducing judgement and self-control. A variant of the "Psi-2000 Polywater Virus" created by similar conditions aboard a starship closely observing a collapsing star returns in an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Naked Now."
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Maquis created a bioweapon to use against Cardassians by altering the molecular structure of several common substances. Their method surprised even Dax.
- Farscape: Chlorium is an atmospherically induced isotope. It is dangerous for Leviathans to transport because of its analgesic properties (it numbs the biomechanoid living ships). It's also used by primitive cultures as table salt.
- One episode claims that a Peacekeeper Marauder uses "Cesium fuel." Cesium, also spelled Caesium, is a real element. In Real Life, humans use it for photoelectric cells. One isotope of it, Caesium-137, is actually a byproduct of nuclear fission. And it reacts explosively with cold water.
- The main "interesting" property of Cs is being the most electropositive and easily ionized metal. As such, used when something needs to emit electrons (vacuum lamps, cathodes in photocells and suchlike) or to "salt" otherwise bad plasma and make it more conductive - that is, in things like explosive MHD generators. And it's got the second lowest boiling point among metals, after mercury. And a spaceship thruster is likely to have powerful plasma- and/or particle beam- based components. With fusion reactors it's less clear, but if either electron beams or "rich" cold plasma are required, Caesium again. So, one way or another, it's about the most obvious expendable material for spaceships. Odd that Farscape, of all series, actually got this right.
- Based on the naming scheme, Quantium-40 in Babylon 5 might have been an example of this, if other isotopes of Quantium (assuming that is what the number -40 referred to) are not generally extracted for the construction of jump gates (we never hear anything about scouts searching the galaxy for Quantium-39.).
- Shadowrun. It was possible to use alchemy to change ordinary materials such as metals into "radicals", altered versions that were extremely useful in creating magic items. The metals included copper, gold, iron, lead, mercury, silver and tin.
- Mortdred's Magical Metals, a collection of metals from various RPG's. A number of the metals on the list were magically altered versions of normal metals, including the "Star of" metals (Iron, Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum), Fixed Mercury and True (Iron, Copper, Gold).