"Make sure the replicators provide every person with a blanket and food before nightfall."
Matter operates under certain rules that say that things (barring certain radioactive elements) don't spontaneously transform from one thing to another. If you've ever worried about spontaneously transforming into a giant pile of cherry ice cream while sitting at your keyboard, relax: the odds of such an event happening are vanishingly slim, as are the odds of your keyboard transforming into a nest of live pythons, or the ceiling over your head turning into cheddar cheese and falling on you.
Those of us who like to sleep at night find security in those rules. Those of us who want to build things faster find them a nuisance. Turning an ore-rich mountainside into next year's model of automobile or a tree farm into enough copies of Time
magazine to fill everyone's subscriptions takes a lot of time and energy; wouldn't it be better if you could just take a big pile of stuff
, break it down into the very building blocks of matter and reconstruct it into all those wonderful big complex things?
Works of Speculative Fiction
like to take that "if" and make it a reality. Enter the Matter Replicator
, a form of Applied Phlebotinum
that gleefully ignores the laws of thermodynamics as it rearranges and reassembles matter at the nuclear level to do everything from fixing a radio
to fixing a nice cup of Earl Grey
Note that the name "Matter Replicator
" is itself somewhat misleading; it's rare to find one that can actually make something out of nothing
(that one law of thermodynamics that usually can't be broken
without breaking Willing Suspension of Disbelief
as well). A Matter Replicator
can use pre-existing
matter to replicate something else, or perhaps use it to transmute something into entirely new. Creations made of Hard Light
need not apply here, but Nanomachines
For the ancient or magical equivalent, see Alchemy
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Anime & Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist, Alchemists are basically walking matter replicators, limited only by that pesky Newtonian law. While most Alchemists specialize in a particular kind of transformation, it's implied that with the right knowledge and transmutation circle, an Alchemist can do practically anything...except, of course, resurrect the dead, create an Artificial Human or do anything related to souls. Seriously, it's a bad idea to even try it.
- Bokurano explores this trope quite a bit, due to the giant robots regenerating and the teleporting. Dungbeetle explains that all matter is made up of building blocks with four switches, which he can alter at will, making different things. Conservation of mass still applies, however, and Dungbeetle never creates anything out of thin air, stating that the energy difference would be too great. He uses it to teleport things instead. Also, this also presents empirical evidence for the human soul, since you cannot resurrect humans with this technology even if you have their data. You'd only get a corpse.
- Naru Taru has mons with the ability to replicate anything they see. Whether this is unlimited is questioned, but it is never explored in-depth.
- Transmetropolitan has these, which all seem to come with an AI. Spider's mafia-made one spends most of it's time producing drugs. For itself.
- Tintin and the Lake of Sharks features a semi-functional duplicator developed by Professor Calculus, and Hilarity Ensues when Rastapopoulos steals it and attempts to use it for his own ends.
- The Prestige, Tesla's attempt to create a teleporter creates one of these instead; there is no explanation given for where the matter it uses to create its duplicates comes from, but in a rare event, the device is capable of copying an entire human being perfectly.
- Forbidden Planet, Robbie the Robot has a replicator built in to his body, able to reproduce anything he's given a sample of. One of the crew quickly takes advantage of this and turns him into the world's fastest distillery.
- Richie Rich has Professor Keenbean's Subatomic Molecular Reorganizer, an early prototype replicator in the form of a gigantic, complex, loud machine which breaks down garbage and turns it into useful everyday items. It later becomes a Conveyor Belt-O-Doom when one of the villains tries to feed Richie and his friends into it, although it uses a hopper instead of an actual conveyor belt.
- The Neo-Korean, McDonald's-like Papa Song's is shown rapidly 3D-printing food from sophisticated spray nozzles in the 2144-set part of Cloud Atlas.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Future History timeline included a "Universal Pantograph" which could duplicate objects. It's mentioned in Time Enough For Love.
- Damon Knight's A For Anything (1959) had a rather primitive-looking "Gizmo" that could duplicate anything, including itself. No source of energy was mentioned, only that the Gizmo could only do one item at a time, including living people. This destroyed Earth civilization overnight, leading to a feudal slave-owner future where only human labor was valuable.
- Vorkosigan Saga, there are replicators for organic material called "protein vats", but it's implied that traditional manufacturing is easier for metals.
- William Gibson's All Tomorrows Parties has the Nanofax machine, which transmits copies of anything.
- Wil Mc Carthy's The Queendom Of Sol series, fax machines can print copies of almost any object, as long as enough raw materials are on hand. These devices are a relatively rare example in that they can also print copies of people — potentially multiple copies, which factors into the setting's society and laws. Combined with a solar-system-wide computer network, the faxes are effectively a form of transport, medical facility, factory, and glorified refrigerator all rolled into one. They are also one of the few valuable objects in the setting's economy, as the print plate of a fax machine is one of the very few things that another fax cannot produce.
- The Culture of Iain M. Banks's novels. The protagonist of Use of Weapons complains when he asks a ship Mind for some rubbish to shoot at, and is instead given a block of ice. The Mind explains that it doesn't have rubbish — just "matter that's currently in use, and matter that's available to be recycled and used for something else."
- Troy Rising "fabbers", much like their Schlock Mercenary counterparts, can build just about anything you want very quickly as long as you've got the raw materials. Much like the Schlock Verse, the crushed remains of enemy ships are frequently fed in as the raw materials in question.
- Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space universe has "Manufactories", which are essentially extremely adaptable factories ranging from the size of a washing machine to enormous kilometer wide constructs. The devices require matter, and some time to actually build the object, but they can build a huge amount devices. The first novel, Revelation Space, has the "Warchive" on the starship Nostalgia For Infinity, which is a manufactory specifically designed to build guns, with an archive of millions of weapons from the modern age of the 2500s to pre-history. If given certain parameters, it will splice together different guns to get the desired elements. The Prefect shows a manufactory in a space station that can build entire spaceships.
- L.E. Modesitt, Jr. The Fires of Paratime had time/space-traveling humans stealing matter duplicators from aliens called Murians. The duplicators were small, about the size of a suitcase (which was the limit that a human could carry back home, and the humans were users, not scientists or engineers), but anything put inside the doughnut-hole center of the device could be copied. Unless it was an electrical device and you left the power on, at which point the duplicator would explode with the force of several kilotons of TNT.
- In The House Left Empty by Robert Reed, most homes after the collapse of most of the world's governments have their own miniature "factories" that contain million of miniature robots, which can manufacture a wide variety of goods when given a supply of matter. Simple food items, plastics, and metals are all within its reach. The protagonist rides in a copy of a 2021 Ferrari roadster which was built in pieces by a larger replicator. The story also shows the scientific uses of the devices - before the collapse, railguns fired what were essentially cannonballs packed with more powerful versions of the factory nanobots at distant worlds and asteroids, which would use solar power to break up minerals and use them to build up bases for future explorers.
- The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson has "makers" that are essentially nanotech fabricators using matter from the "Feed".
Live Action TV
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has food replicators as a staple of shipboard life. There are also medical replicators that can produce replacement body parts and organs (including an entire replacement spine). Furthermore, Starfleet ships and stations use replication functions in their life support systems to efficiently purify the air into appropriate gas mixtures for reuse, thus forgoing the need for massive gas storage.
- In Deep Space 9 we get told about Industrial Replicators that are being sent to the Cardasians. By inference these are the industrial complexes to the cottage industry of the shipboard replicators as a small number of these is the Federation's answer to rebuilding Cardassia Prime.
- Since Star Trek replicators are use the same basic technology as transporters, there are instances of transporter accidents replicating people.
- Fan theory says that when transporters break stuff down, each wavicle is nanoscopically tagged with its position and energy in the original (in the same way that packets on the Internet are tagged with their position in the original message.) This is why Voyager finds it more energy-efficient to beam up foodstuffs from a planet (and have them cooked by Neelix) than to replicate them: information is energy, so replicators consume energy arranging matter, whereas transported matter comes with the information to arrange itself.
- There are certain things the replicator can't make: Dilithium, Benamite,* living things*, Pure Energy note , latinum (a handwave to allow currency to exist in the same universe as replicators), and antimatter (for obvious kaboomy reasons).
- The Twilight Zone episode "Valley of the Shadow", the inhabitants of the titular valley have advanced technology including a machine that can create any solid object based on its molecular pattern.
- Stargate Verse: The more advanced races have them, but they don't show up very often. The final episode makes the logical point that Teleporter=(Matter Replicator + Radio), so if you have one you have the other.
- Red Dwarf episode "Demons and Angels" features a matter replicator, with a caveat: all the virtues of the replicated object go into one copy, all the evils into another.
- Farscape had an episode where a villain used a wrist mounted version to "twin" people.
- Blake's 7: The People of Sardos have this technology, and are able to replicate anything from a tennis ball to a star cruiser using their living computer, Moloch.
- Power Rangers in Space: The Astro Megaship has such a device, called the Synth-o-tron. It's mostly used for producing food and beverages, although the Rangers prefer the fare at the Surf Spot.
- The Outer Limits episode "Think Like a Dinosaur" had an alien interstellar matter transmitter machine on the Moon that transported people instantaneously across interstellar distances by copying them. Thus two identical people would exist: the original on the Moon, and the one transmitted elsewhere. The problem was the saurian-like aliens insisted that only one duplicate be allowed to exist in the universe, so each time the machine was used, the person at the "transmitting" side had to be disintegrated or killed. Sure enough, an accident happened where they could not confirm the receiver for several hours, resulting in a dilemma for the humans being allowed to use the alien device under supervision.
- Get Smart had a movie that involved the bad guys using an "instant cloning machine" that could replicate living people. Both sides used it to make an army of special agents before the machine was destroyed from overuse.
- In Calvin And Hobbes, when Calvin introduces his cardboard-box duplicator to Hobbes, he notes that "counterfeiting is just one of its many uses around the home!" However, he only seems to use it to clone himself.
- Shadowrun features these, what with it being a melting pot of cyberpunk tropes and all.
- GURPS: Ultra-Tech They're balanced by truly massive power demands that require "cosmic" energy sources to be economical.
- Cthulhu Tech makes mention of nanoforges, devices that are used both in the industrial and consumer sector, that utilize specific matter codes to construct new things.
- Homeworld, Used to justify the Ridiculously Fast Construction seen in the games, described in surprising detail in the fluff.
- Fallout New Vegas utilizes them in the form of the Sierra Madre Vending Machines. They can turn casino chips into other things like ammo, food and medicine. These chips are made from just plain scrap metal and some form of fissionable material, if the crafting window is to be believed.
- Word Of God says that the Vaults also have matter replicators, though only to create vault suits. One of the vaults was set that the suit replicators failed six months after closing.
- Hostile Waters has nanotechnology that acts like this as one of its themes. Creation engines were invented that could build anything from nothing, atom by atom. Attempts to regulate the technology by corrupt governments led to a planetwide socialist revolution, and 20 years later the world is a war-free post-scarcity Utopia.
- The DOLLI devices in Quantum Conundrum are capable of duplicating objects in mass quantities as long as they're given enough Science Juice to run on. They can also duplicate living things, though with less-than-perfect results.
- Startopia: Combined with an Energy Economy, you could replicate raw materials, furniture and entire buildings from your energy stores.
- Schlock Mercenary The fabber is an odd case of a Matter Replicator that uses mechanical labor. Full-scale fabbers have arrays of tools capable of building things as large as starships or as fine as bodies with blank brains. Smaller units use Nanotechnology instead of human sized robots seen in the very large fabber facilities.
- In addition Wormgates could copy exactly anything that passed through one of them using matter from stars. The Gatekeepers primarily used it to abduct clones of the richest percent of the galactic population and interrogate them.
- A Miracle of Science, Mars gives most of the major nations of the Sol system "Autofactories" that can produce nearly anything from basic raw materials. Martians themselves can use the Nano Machines in their bodies to alter physical objects and most of their buildings are made of "smart matter" that can rearrange itself at will.
- The tongue-in-cheek comic Real Life has evil scientist Tony Flansaas making a duplication chamber out of glass and off-the-shelf electronics in just a few hours in his friend's garage. The cloning machine could make infinite copies of anything placed inside of the six-foot-by-three-feet tube, including live people such as Tony himself, and Tony once re-set the controls to have the machine duplicate itself so he could take a copy with him. Tony also stated that the cloning machine could dematerialize any matter placed inside the chamber back into energy if needed. (Which he did, to destroy hundreds of clones of himself.)
- Spacetrawler: Space debris, garbage, and dead bodies get dumped into the spacetrawler. Anything the user wants—from food to complex machinery—comes out. It's noted that spacetrawler-produced food tends to tastes like asteroids.
- The Transformers: In "Cosmic Rust", one of the key ingredients for Perceptor's Corrostop compound (which undoes and protects against corrosion) runs out. There does not appear to be any more left. Because the Decepticons accidentally caused an outbreak of the titular disease, this is something of a problem. So Perceptor and Wheeljack have to work their butts off to get Wheeljack's Matter Duplicator to actually work so that the Autobots can produce all the Corrostop they need from a tiny remaining sample.
- Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Ma Vreedle used a giant machine in one episode to combine cloning mix and salt water in a bid to create 4 billion Vreedles that would have used the entire oceans of earth.
- In Einstein's theories (the famous E=mc2), it is possible to replicate energy into matter and vice versa while still following that pesky law of equivalent exchange, just like alchemy and Star Trek's replicators, but in order to assemble matter you need energy sufficient enough to travel the speed of light twice (however, it is possible to use Anti Matter in order to get that mass-forming energy out of any other mass, only that you need enough energy to manufacture that antimatter in the first place). Stars, nuclear reactors and particle accelerators such as the LHC can replicate matter because of their high-energy environments, but doing this on Earth is expensive while the byproducts are often too dangerous for human consumption.
- The advent of 3D printing has brought this trope incredibly close to reality. There are even 3D printers that are designed to be built by other 3D printers, although specialized parts still need to be bought separately and you need to put the whole thing together by hand.
- Claytronics, an emerging nanotechnology centering on tiny computerized "atoms" working together in tandem to construct larger objects.