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Artistic License – Chemistry
aka: Elements Do Not Work That Way

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When a work of fiction creates a new trait of a known element or compound—as opposed to Unobtainium, which generally just makes up new substances out of whole cloth. Such is usually done in service of the Rule of Cool.

There may be some overlap when real names are used for obviously fictional elements.

May very, very rarely intersect with Science Marches On, but usually this trope applies either where science has already long since marched on, or some twisted path entirely off the parade route.

It is worth bearing in mind that several substances in Real Life (especially commercial medicines and cosmetics) are marketed under names that would make a proper chemist wince, and there's no reason the fictional world should be any different. Kryptonite doesn't have to have anything to do with Krypton... unless they tell you it does.

Trope relations:




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  • One washing powder company proudly exclaimed that their product contains "active oxygen". You could bet it didn't, since a washing powder that dissolves clothes and washers would be quite a marketing disaster — also, oxygen is a gas, you know. Hard to powderise. note 
  • Similarly, Steradent denture tablets claim that "thousands of micro bubbles carry the active oxygen all around the denture killing 99.9% of bacteria."

    Anime & Manga 
  • Gunsmith Cats: A key element of Goldie Musou's plot arc is her basically being the Einstein of pharmaceuticals, having created the recreational chemical equivalent of the atomic bomb; "Kerasonin Citrasine" AKA "Kerasine" is basically an excuse for one woman to come out of absolutely nowhere to dominate organized crime in Chicago;
    1. It's as cheap to make as methamphetamines - though possibly requiring expensive equipment as Bean is sent halfway across the country to New York for a shipment - so Goldie can undercut all her rivals.
    2. Goldie expects her rivals to take several years to reverse engineer it, making it basically a license to print money.
    3. It replicates the effects of three entirely different and distinct drugs - a small amount is a stimulant like cocaine, a larger amount is a euphoric similar to heroin, and the entire contents of a vial combines both with a powerful hallucinogenic effect like phencyclidine or lysergic acid diethylamide. She thus takes customers from three existing groups and keeps them, especially as...
    4. It has very low toxicity, as in no-one in-story - even in the background - ever overdoses on it. Long-term users don't even seem debilitated in any perceivable way. The resulting Functional Addicts just buy and buy and buy. This eventually gives Goldie Vetinari Job Security once she abandons her obsession with Rally, as the city can either have Kerasine addicts and her as its sole overboss or their previous morass of crackheads and the constant war between the gangs and numerous crime syndicates.
    5. It does have one exactly one downside; It puts users in a hypnotic state, enabling them to be used as catspaws. She gets a lot of mileage out of this, tearing through the few rivals she can't buy out by simply subverting their forces. One person she suborns such is Rally's father. This doesn't diminish its customer base, as junkies aren't exactly rational or forward-thinking.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin uses a sakabatou, a katana with the sharp and blunt sides reversed so that it cannot cut when gripped normally (instead it just breaks bones). It still has a backwards curve like a normal katana. In real life, katanas acquire that curve because of a quirk of forging: due to chronic shortages of high-quality steel, Japanese smiths forged swords from multiple pieces of steel of varying compositions that were forge-welded together. They were forged straight, but naturally bent backwards when cooled due to differing thermal expansion coefficients between the spine and edge sides of the blade. A back-bent reversed-blade sword like Kenshin uses would therefore be difficult to achieve, but one supposes this is why Arai Shakkuu was an Ultimate Blacksmith.

    Comic Books 
  • Promethium: (In the real world, it's a radioactive metal with no stable isotopes.)
    • In The DCU, it's their version of adamantium.
    • In the Marvel Universe, Promethium is used as the name of an extradimensional metal with magical properties. Marvel's big on this; while vibranium and adamantium are both described as "alloys", neither exists in the real world.
    • In the DC Animated Universe (or at least insofar as Batman: Vengeance is concerned), Promethium is a chemical compound used in cryogenics. It also blows up reeeeal good, hence the name (after Prometheus, bringer of fire).
  • "Nth Metal", the substance from which Thanagarian weapons are made in Hawkman. Stated in Justice League to be "transuranic iron", whatever that means. If we assume by "iron" they mean "group 8 element on the periodic table", then the first transuranic element would be hassium, which has a maximum half-life of about 10 seconds. Presumably, fights involving Thanagarians are short ones.
  • Invoked and subverted in one Catwoman comic by the Joker in a discussion with Catwoman after tagging her with a radioactive isotope tracker hidden in a pie he threw at her. The whole idea was that once she had the tracer on her, the Joker could then play a twisted game of cat and mouse with her throughout Gotham. (Hint: She's not the cat...) Subverted in the sense that yes, radioactive isotope tracers can work that way, and invoked in the following conversation:
    Selina: Chemicals don't work that way.
    Joker: My hair is green.
  • The Flash: Both Golden and Silver Age Flashes became empowered thanks to dodgy chemistry.
    • Jay Garrick became the Golden Age Flash when he was exposed to "heavy water" (water containing deuterium as its hydrogen isotope, instead of the more common, neutron free protium) fumes. Real heavy water has no effect on humans unless it replaces more than 25% of your body's water, at which point it would just make you sick.
    • Barry Allen became the Silver Age Flash when a bolt of lightning blasted a rack of crime-scene analysis chemicals onto him. A later retcon identified the lightning bolt as either a manifestation of the Speed Force or Barry himself sent back in time at the moment of his death during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
  • Doc Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, admits that the technology and theories that power his creations are so profoundly unscientific that they have more in common with magic or alchemy than chemistry. Essentially, he created a "responsometer" which can somehow draw out the inherent personality within a pure metal, allowing it to be built into a humanoid robot with full sapience and an attitude derived from the metal itself. Aside from this, though the Metal Men do have powers derived from their base metal (Gold and Platinum can stretch into fine filament, Lead is incredibly heavy and can block radiation, Mercury is liquid, etc.), quite a few aspects are at the very least straining against the science—for instance, Mercury somehow avoids poisoning everyone around him, and Platinum, a human-sized female robot apparently made of the stuff, was somehow able to be built for less than a billion dollars.
  • Supreme: Alan Moore's era introduced the mysterious element "Supremium", which both originally gave Supreme his powers, and acts as his Kryptonite equivalent. It is strongly hinted that Supremium is created from any other form of matter that becomes caught in a Stable Time Loop.
  • Adventure Comics: A 1947 issue has Superboy help a friend win a contest to show off the most valuable specimen of whatever. The rich kid brings diamonds, which Superboy tops with several tons of pitchblende. Even though the judge proclaims the pitchblende victorious because it's an ore of extremely valuable uranium and radium, there's no acknowledgement of the corollary: It's dangerously radioactive. The comics-medicine blog Polite Dissent ran the numbers and concluded that the contestant and judge standing next to the rock for even a few minutes had a poor chance of surviving their radiation poisoning, while cancer rates were measurably increased for everyone else in the room. Not to worry; Superboy himself would be just fine.
  • Vampirella: That on Drakulon the chemical formula of water is H₂O — read: hemoglobin with oxygen (still read: blood) — we can file as the typical corny gag of the early Warren years. But when in "Red Sonja and Vampirella Meet Betty and Veronica " #11 rhenium is filed as a rare earth, a troper is weeping.note 

    Fan Works 
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Pizza Problems, one of Greg's classmates throws a pizza with hot sauce and bell peppers into an open fire, burning Greg's school down to the ground. Spicy ingredients do not affect the flammability of food, and even if it did, the resulting fire wouldn't be large enough to spread across an entire building.
  • Izuku in Matter Adaptation can use One for All without injury when he turns his body into diamond, with All-Might mentioning even he can't break diamond. In reality, Izuku hitting the Zero Pointer with a diamond arm would have resulted in his arm shattering into tiny pieces. Similarly, Izuku normally fights by turning his body into tungsten. Not tungsten carbide, regular tungsten. Much like diamond, tungsten is hard but extremely brittle.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, Frozone says he cannot put out a fire because he's dehydrated and there's no water in the air for him to use. Meanwhile, the background shows they're surrounded by burning wood. The main reaction in wood fires is cellulose reacting with oxygen, forming carbon dioxide and water vapor. Which says something interesting about Frozone's powers that he can't access it while dehydrated.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Evolution did this for selenium. They hand waved it by saying that selenium was to the alien creatures' nitrogen-based biochemistry as arsenic is to carbon-based life forms, because they're in the same relative position on the periodic table. This handwave made it clear that nobody involved in the movie understands the concept of valence electronsnote . Besides, the Rule of Funny dictated they had to defeat the Eldritch Abomination amoeba with gallons of anti-dandruff shampoo. There is also the fact that they never tested their theory before loading tons of the shampoo into a fire truck and going after the amoeba's cloaca. For that matter, the phrase "nitrogen-based biochemistry" is a real howler to chemists in its own right.note 
  • Godzilla:
    • The original 1954 Gojira movie has Dr. Serizawa use an invention called the Oxygen Destroyer to kill Godzilla. In the film, the device worked by dissolving oxygen molecules in the water causing asphyxiation (and also, for some odd reason, dissolving the tissues, bones, etc.) of anything unfortunate enough to get within range of it when it's used. A horrible, horrible way to die. Still, it does leave a LOT of questions on how exactly it works.
    • In the original film, it dissolved organic matter completely. In Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla it was retconned to skeletonizing, as they dredged up the first Godzilla's bones to use as the organic frame for Kiryu. Which wasn't the worst effect of the Oxygen destroyer, considering it also allowed hibernating anaerobic creatures to wake up, mutate and become the horrifying anti-life beast Destoroyah.
    • In one of the later films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it's stated that Mechagodzilla is made of Space Titanium. We would like to know how it's different from regular-old everyday titanium, which, by the way, you can already find in outer space (not least because it's a good metal for some parts of our spacecraft).
    • In Shin Godzilla, Operation Yashiori was a plan to pump Godzilla full of a coagulant in order to cool Godzilla down and force it to perform a reactor scram to stay alive. It's also stated that Godzilla's blood is a cooling mechanism for his radioactive heart. If Godzilla is a walking nuclear reactor, and his blood is the cooling mechanism, then using a coagulant to stop Godzilla's blood from cooling Godzilla would result in Godzilla overheating and not freezing.
  • In Star Trek: Generations, trilithium is able to stop all fusion inside a star, causing it to implode on itself and then go supernova — thus destroying the star and all of its inner planets. This involves the same problems as "dilithium," below, plus the added problem that the writers had already given the name "trilithium" to a different fictional substance.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space asserts that "a ray of sunlight is made up of many atoms," thus making possible the destruction of the universe by solaronite bomb. In Real Life, light is made of photons, not atoms. Even if what they meant was solar wind, a different byproduct of the Sun's fusion reaction, it's composed of ionized particles (atomic nuclei stripped of some or even all of their electrons), not complete atoms. Even if the loose protons and alpha particles somehow picked up electrons, the density alone is so low that it wouldn't be useful.
  • In Spider-Man 2, Dr. Octavius requires some tritium for his experiments. He obtains it in form of a gray metallic ball. Tritium is gaseous under normal conditions, but it's possible that the gold object is a second layer of containment in addition to the glass ball around it. He also mentions how tritium is one of the rarest elements on Earth. Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen, not a distinct element, and it is nowhere near as rare as he claimsnote . For some reason, Octavius consistently called it "precious tritium," as though it was the actual name for the stuff. Perhaps precious tritium is supposed to be different from regular tritium somehow.
  • Probably a joke, considering it's Mars Attacks!... The Martians must wear space helmets while on Earth because they breathe nitrogen rather than oxygen. However, not only is nitrogen inert, and therefore a poor choice as a gas to breathe, but it's the most plentiful gas in the Earth's atmosphere — i.e. there's more nitrogen than oxygen. The presence of free oxygen in the atmosphere and potential oxidization of their lungs isn't the problem, since a spy is able to get by in the atmosphere by chewing nitrogen-infused gum.
  • In the second live-action movie Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, Scooby-Doo freezes the Tar Monster with a fire extinguisher. While expanding compressed gas (carbon dioxide, in the case of fire extinguishers) does indeed tend to absorb a lot of heat, it mostly absorbs it as it expands, so this just means you have to worry about your hands getting frozen to the fire extinguisher. The foam itself isn't cold enough to freeze anything.
  • Iron Man 2:
    • Tony's arc reactor is slowly killing him through "palladium poisoning". Ignoring the question of how the palladium fuel is seeping out of his arc reactor in the first place (implying a rather dire containment breach), palladium isn't really all that harmful to humans.
    • Nick Fury tells Tony Stark that Tony's been injected with "Lithium Dioxide" in order to remove the effects of palladium poisoning. This implies that lithium has at least four electrons to give up, while it actually only has three. And taking two of them requires more than just some oxygen. This shows one common variant of this trope in Real Life: confusing the type of chemical bonds in a molecule. The wrong part is the name — it should be: lithium superoxide. And it indeed does exist (at very low temperatures, but still). See Real Life section for the bonding-related difficulties. Then there's the fact that injecting someone with as powerful an oxidising agent as superoxide would, in real life, have some pretty spectacularly nasty and possibly fatal effects.
    • Then of course there's the whole "Tony Stark creates a new element" bit, with a Hadron collider assembled in his garage.
    • During Justin Hammer's overly boasting description of the Ex-Wife bunker buster missile, he only gives one notable piece of technical information about it. He describes the missile as containing a "cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine RDX burst", two different terms for the same explosive (RDX) back-to-back. Given that the Ex-Wife is later demonstrated to be completely useless, this instance may not be a mistake but a subtle foreshadowing that Hammer has no clue at all about his own weapon.
  • In The Rock: VX gas is real and is generally considered to be one of the most lethal chemical agents currently in existence (it has been outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993). However the film portrays VX as a blistering agent, causing blisters and melting people's faces off, while in reality it is a nerve agent that causes your muscles to contract and not relax, visually it would appear as if the person was having a seizure. It is also colorless and tasteless, not the eldritch green shade in the movie. It also isn't stored the way it's depicted in the film, on strings of long glass beads, and tends to actually be stored in such a way that the gas is only lethal after mixing together two vital components. The movie did accurately portray how lethal it is, a dose as low as 10 mg is considered lethal just from skin contact. Credit where it's due, the film's screenwriter noted in an interview that he actually did do his research on how the gas worked, but fudged a lot of the details because VX gas's actual properties and storage methods just aren't very screen-friendly—it's harder to convince the audience of the danger of an invisible substance being kept in a nondescript metal box.
  • In Battleship, the alien wreckage is said to be built out of completely unfamiliar elements, save the synthetic element Lawrencium. Lawrencium can only be made in particle accelerators, and the most stable isotope has a half-life of 3.6 hours, which makes it a bad choice for construction of space ships.
  • Star Wars, The Force Awakens: Rey tells us that BB-8 has a selenium drive, which is a tip of the cap to Galaxy Quest's Beryllium Sphere, whether it was intended to be or not.
  • In Downfall, Magda Goebbels drugs her children and then poisons them with cyanide capsules to spare them from falling into the hands of the Red Army. The capsules take immediate effect and the children whimper and go limp after one second. In real life, cyanide (or in fact any poison administered orally) would take a minute or two to take effect. Probably qualifies as Acceptable Breaks from Reality on the part of the filmmakers, as obtaining a convincing performance of agonised, drawn-out death throes from a child actor would run the risk of Narm and besides it would be far too upsetting and controversial for audiences even for a film that dares to present the Nazi upper leadership as Alas, Poor Villain.
  • Wonder Woman: Dr. Poison's new hydrogen-based mustard gas makes no scientific sense, but that's probably for And Some Other Stuff purposes. Also, it has a god behind it, so he may be working his magic.
  • The toxicology in The Young Poisoner's Handbook is excellent, but the so-called "Newton's Diamond" Graham is obsessed with is a fabrication created for plot purposes. It is not possible to form a clear crystal out of antimony.
  • In Deadpool (2016), the titular character throws a match at an oxygen line to destroy the oxygen deprivation torture machine he is stuck in. Oxygen doesn't burn by itself, it needs something to oxidise, so in this example, all that should have happened is the match burning brighter and faster than normal until it was burned completely. Additionally, the sensation of suffocation, which the chamber produces, is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide, not a deficit of oxygen.

  • In the novel Ride the Gray Planet, thorium is used as a nuclear fuel, a mild example seeing as it is used as such in real life, but unlike in the book it can't be used in nuclear reactors by itself.
  • Quadium, i.e. hydrogen-4, is used to power a bomb in The Mouse That Roared that doesn't actually work due to a mechanical failure in the triggering mechanism. Quadium does not occur naturally, having only been created in a laboratory setting, and has a half-life of about 139 yoctoseconds.
  • In the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle a single synthetic ice-crystal called "Ice-Nine," formed of ordinary oxygen and hydrogen, is able to freeze all liquid water that it touches, into identical crystals of "Ice-Nine" via chain-reaction—eventually freezing all water on Earth. Polymorphs of water do exist, although there isn't one that has such a high melting point. You can actually build ice sculptures like this by supercooling water and then pouring it around a seed crystal: search YouTube. One of the actual polymorphic forms of water is ice IX, pronounced "ice-nine". However, we don't need to worry about it causing a runaway doomsday scenario, because it's stable only at ridiculously high pressures and temperatures where water would long since have turned into regular ice anyway.
  • In The Invincible by Stanisław Lem the eponymous spaceship lands on a planet with oxygen-methane atmosphere. The fact that it's an immense bomb waiting to go off is pointed out and explained away as local methane somehow behaving differently from methane found elsewhere in the galaxy.
  • At one point, the Perry Rhodan universe ran on the implicit assumption that matter and antimatter would only react with each other if matching elements and anti-elements came into contact. Thus, oxygen + anti-oxygen = boom, but, say, nitrogen + anti-oxygen = perfectly safe. (The plot revolved around peaceful visitors from an antimatter universe and the spectacular disasters their visits caused.) The initial explanation for why Ynkelonium, a heavy metallic element that didn't react with antimatter (and also conveniently suppressed such reactions in its immediate vicinity), acted the way it did was that it simply had no antimatter counterpart...
  • In H.G.Wells' The War of the Worlds, the Martians' Black Smoke is said to be made of an unknown element that reacts with the argon in the atmosphere, causing devastating effects on humans. Argon, being a noble gas, is extremely difficult to react and the reaction will never happen in the atmosphere. Also, the story got confused as to the spectral characteristics of this element; one part claiming that its lines were in the green, and another, in the blue.
  • In the Lensman books by E. E. "Doc" Smith, an early power source is "allotropic iron". An allotrope is a variety of a pure element that differs from the other allotropes in crystalline or molecular structure; most elements have several, with different properties (two allotropes of carbon are graphite and diamond - yes, they're the same atoms, just arranged in layers that slide off each other easily for graphite, and tetragons for diamond. And now you know). In the Lensman universe, there's one allotrope of iron that makes it into this hyperdense radioactive liquid that turns 10% of its own mass into energy over time, making it a good fuel source for spaceships.
    • More accurately, the liquid allotrope is used because it's extremely dense, and because it's iron. His "super-atomic" power plants work by (somehow or other) releasing the entire binding energy content of a nucleus, and as pointed out above, iron has more binding energy in its nucleus than any other element. The liquid is never depicted as radioactive.
    • In their conventional model, neutron stars have a crust of polymerised iron. The magnetic fields of the star are so intense that the iron nuclei are stretched, allowing the atoms to arrange themselves into a hyperdense solid that ... well, it wouldn't be very stable outside the conditions you find on a neutron star.
    • Also, iron is the worst thing in the universe to use for nuclear fuel. It absorbs energy, both to fuse it and fission it. There's a reason iron buildup in stars' cores causes supernovas...
  • Similarly to the Traveller example under Tabletop Games, H. Beam Piper had gadolinium as a key component of his hyperdrive engines in Space Viking.
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied in The Fifth Elephant — in addition to the four elephants holding up the Disc, there may have been a fifth that crashed to the Disc surface like a meteor and left behind a special mineral that could be mined... namely, fat.
    • The Science of Discworld books introduce several elements — chelonium, elephantigen, deitygen, and narrativium — that play a crucial role in the Discworld's cosmology and physical sciences.
    • A more straight example is that Discworld driftwood burns with a blue or blue-edged flame "because of the salt". The salt content makes real-life driftwood burn with a yellow flame — then again, it's Roundworld salt, NaCl, and maybe Discworld salt-shakers contain something else?
    • Thud! introduces Mr. Shine, the Diamond King of Trolls. He is a troll made out of Diamond and their automatic leader. All trolls are silicon-based lifeforms, Diamonds are 100% carbon. Given the whole "Metamorphorical" thing, that's probably not a major concern.
  • Isaac Asimov (who had a biochemistry doctorate in Real Life) heard Robert Silverberg make an offhand reference to "Plutonium-186" and noted that such an isotope could not possibly exist. This provided the idea that grew into the novel The Gods Themselves, part of which takes place in an Alternate Universe where that isotope can exist because nuclear forces are stronger.
  • In Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy, one novel includes a presentation of a new type of Space Fighter that uses a matter/anti-matter reactor to meet its enormous power requirements. The only problem with this is the use of a rare isotope called antitritium specifically because it only reacts explosively with tritium (hydrogen-3) and no other isotope, making it safe to use. While antitritium is not normally synthesized (antideuterium has been for tests) in Real Life, antimatter anihillates proton-to-proton, not atom-to-atom.
  • The Four Horsemen Universe uses an invented isotope of fluorine, fluorine-11 or F11 for short, as an Unobtainium to enable fusion reactors (and also to enable No Blood for Phlebotinum plots). The lightest known isotope of fluorine is fluorine-14, an atom with a half-life of 500 yoctosecondsnote ; its heavier isotopes are more stable rather than less with the most stable being fluorine-19. This is probably deliberate given the relative scientific rigor used everywhere else in the series.
  • In The Cinder Spires guns aren't used because iron and steel that aren't protected by copper rapidly rust and decay due to some property of the atmosphere. Right idea, wrong metal. Unlike zinc, which is widely used to keep iron from corroding, copper will make iron rust faster in a corrosive environment, unless the copper layer is too thick for the corrosive stuff to get to the iron underneath. Making it so thick is impractical due to cost and weight, and availability of much better anticorrosive treatments.
  • Nos4a 2: Vic kills Bing by igniting a tank of sevoflurane anesthetic he is carrying. That compound exists in real life, but is non-flammable.
  • Anarchist Cookbook:
    • Most of the bomb recipes in the book are dangerously inaccurate, and have gotten people severely injured and even killed. The stuff that is accurate is usually hilariously outdated. Oh, and you can't get high on bananas.
    • Still, it's a lot better than the online guides bearing the name. Would you trust recipes like "If it turns brown or starts to bubble, run like hell!" Another called for a "10 foot pole with a feather on the end", which was used to set it off. Schmuck Bait?
    • Nope. This is actually how it's set off at demonstrations, although the pole doesn't need to be precisely ten foot long.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Donal Noye compares Stannis Baratheon to pure iron in the sense that he's hard, brittle and unbending. Pure iron is actually soft and malleable. It's more egregious because the character saying this is a blacksmith.
  • Star Wars Legends: Mynocks are intensely allergic to helium, and die nearly instantly on contact with any amount of it; this is stated to be the primary reason why they can't establish themselves on planets. Helium is a noble gas, a class of elements notable mainly for their intense inertness and difficulty in reacting with any other substance, which makes it very difficult for them to have any effect, good or ill, on a living organism, and for being rare to the point of nonexistence in planets due to its lightness making it impossible for most planetary gravities to keep it from leaking off into outer space.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Attempts to avert this by claiming that Quantium-40 is an unknown isotope of potassium with unusual properties. Unfortunately, potassium-40 does exist in real life (albeit in small quantities): It's radioactive but otherwise unremarkable (except for being a major method of dating rocks, meaning that it ultimately plays the trope straight....
    • It's an atom formed in neutron stars, and it extends into higher-dimensional space. See also the entry for Isaac Asimov's thiotimoline in Minovsky Physics.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): A more subtle example than fictional elements: at one point the show attempted to suggest that organic Cylons have eight-membered rings in their biochemistry where humans have six-membered ones, and that Hera has seven-membered ones. For various reasons (look up "aromaticity", and also the geometric ease with which saturated six-membered rings can be formed while keeping the carbon atoms' bonds at the apexes of a tetrahedron) the prevalence of six-membered rings in Earth biochemistry is a result of fairly basic physics about how atoms bond together, and not something arbitrary that can be simplistically changed to create "alien" biology. Also such exotic biology would be pretty darn easy to detect.
  • Black Hole High:
    • Featured two of the characters "progressing" through the periodic table, taking on, in turn, the attributes of each element they passed: one's voice becomes high-pitched and squeaky as he passes helium, then fluoresces as he passes neon; the other turns metallic at aluminum, then reeks of rotten eggs as he passes sulfur. The plot becomes a race against time to resolve the situation before one of them reaches plutonium and explodes (The solution is for them to hug as they reach sodium and chlorine respectively, creating stable and benign table salt). It doesn't take too much Fridge Logic to see the problems with this, as several of the elements along the way should have been, while perhaps not as lethal as plutonium, lethal enough. Several of the traits they demonstrated were not traits of the elements themselves.
    • And uranium, which does exactly the same thing in human-sized amounts as plutonium, is two elements before it.
    • When they were hydrogen an ignition source would create an explosion with the oxygen in the air. If they made it to lithium any amount of liquid water would react violently with the lithium, releasing the hydrogen and heat which would likely cause an explosion.
  • In the Bones episode "The Twisted Bones In The Melted Truck", the Victim of the Week's bones were "melted" by exposure to a magnesium fire. Magnesium burns at 5000°F plus which would have been more than hot enough to melt the bullet which was found intact within the skeleton (lead melts at 622°F, steel at 2500°F).
  • Breaking Bad:
    • In Real Life, it's unlikely that a meth product as pure as the stuff that Walt manufactures would appear blue, because methamphetamine itself is colorless. The color would inherently be from an impurity (presumably the <1% that isn't meth). It is handwaved in-story as a byproduct of Walt's particular chemical synthesis, but it's really just a convenient way for the writers to make Walt's meth stand out. It also gives Hank a convenient way to track "Heisenberg", since he can identify his meth by its unique color.
    • An article on Slate points out that a chemist of Walt's caliber could synthesize methylamine pretty easily, but their attempts to source a rare raw material are a convenient source of drama.
    • Phenylacetic acid is a red flag to the DEA, but they can't use that as Unobtainium because the guy in charge of the Mexican lab already spilled the beans that any college sophomore could make it. Methylamine is, if anything, easier to make from stuff that the DEA isn't terribly interested in than phenylacetic acid is.
    • Several uses of chemistry in the series were investigated in Mythbusters in a special episode about Breaking Bad. The scenes where the hydrofluoric acid ate through the tub in "Cat's in the Bag" and where mercury fulminate was used to blow up a room in "Crazy Handful of Nothin'" each wound up being busted. In response, Vince Gilligan cited Artistic License as justification: he screwed up the chemistry deliberately so the show couldn't be used as an instruction manual. He also suggested a potential Hand Wave when the MythBusters couldn't set off the mercury fulminate with an impact: Walt used more volatile silver fulminate as a primary explosive.
      • They also invoked this trope when it came to the show's cooking scenes by deliberately leaving out or incorrectly depicting steps of the meth-making process. This was done so that nobody tries to use the show as a template to make meth in real life.
    • It's extremely unlikely that a high school chemistry lab would have hydrofluoric acid sitting around to begin with. HF is highly dangerous (in deceptive, not-necessarily-immediately-apparent ways) and not actually all that useful in the sorts of experiments that are commonly done in high school or even in college (at the masters/doctoral level, maybe).
  • Code Black: A first season episode dealing with a multiple-vehicle pileup on a road bridge has a man trapped in his car by wet concrete from a mixer truck he rear-ended. The doctors say that the concrete is expanding as it dries and is going to crush him. Concrete contracts as it dries because of water leaving.
  • Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor deduces that the Slitheen family are calcium-based lifeforms based on the fact that they emit gases that smell like halitosis and instructs Jackie and Mickey to use splashes of vinegar to explode Sip Fel Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen in a shower of viscera. No part of the above sentence accurately reflects the chemistry of calcium. Or the fact that bad breath is only related to tooth decay in that both are bacterial actions.
  • Firefly: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Jayne states that his gun Vera "needs oxygen around her to fire" when they need to shoot at something in space (their freighter Serenity has no weapons of her own). Lacking a case, they improvise by putting the gun inside a spacesuit. In real life, explosives, gun propellants included, generally contain their own oxidizer, and while lubricants will evaporate when exposed to vacuum, it probably wouldn't happen over the time allotted. Zig-Zagged a bit because Vera is still able to fire after Jayne fires a slug through the helmet visor, and it also proves not to be a problem for the anti-aircraft cannon they bolt to Serenity's hull in the movie.
  • The Flash (2014): In the episode "Plastique", Caitlin attempts to overcome Barry's Immunity to Alcohol with a specially prepared 500 proof drink. That must be a very special preparation since that's 250 percent alcohol by volume.
  • House:
    • Played on this trope once. In episode 48 (season 3, episode 2), a metal pin is removed from a boy who claimed to be abducted by aliens. House jokes, just for a moment, with Chase about the item being of an unidentifiable metal that might not even be terrestrial. Chase is puzzled and excited for a second, then House tells him immediately it's just ordinary titanium (it was a surgical pin that had been used to set a broken arm and later worked loose).
    • While arguing with his team about whether it's safe to give an MRI to a person with metal fragments in his body, House decides to test the idea by shooting a cadaver with a revolver and seeing what happens. The bullet is yanked out of the cadaver by the magnetic fields and damages the MRI machine. This is possible, but questionable: the only way this could possibly work is with a steel — or nickel-jacketed or -cored round, as common lead rounds are not magnetic.
  • Look Around You:
    • Has a Periodic Table made of funny. (And in context of the show, the chemical symbol for water is not a typo: "H20" [sic] is actually pronounced "aitch twenty".) This is in addition to the borderline insane qualities attributed to basic elements and compounds: sulfur gives you heat vision, iron (full name iron de havilland) causes giant scissors to materialize in the sky above you, bumcivilian (a.k.a. iron sulfide) soaks up sound waves, calcium is sentient and can melt your face, and nitrogen is the main ingredient in whiskey.
  • Revolution: In "Ghosts", sulfuric acid is shown being dispensed from a plastic bottle. Sulfuric acid at a concentration high enough to accomplish what Rachel is attempting would oxidize the carbon in the plastic and should only be stored in glass or ceramic containers.
  • Sapphire and Steel: The opening narration. Spot the deliberate mistake. To be fair, the creator acknowledged that the mistake was there... but Rule of Cool and all.
    All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel.
    Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The main characters have to destroy a stockpile of coltan, an alloy which would be used to make Terminator models more advanced than the T-800 (that, being armored primarily with titanium, had a weakness to heat). In real life, coltan is an ore containing niobium and tantalum and not an alloy. Although, "in-universe" the fact that they used a thermite reaction to "cremate" dead terminators supposedly made of this highly heat-resistant metal is accurate. Thermite reactions are the hottest thing most people can get their hands on quietly (the simplest is rust and the powder from an Etch-a-Sketch (Aluminum)). It also burns through everything else (including steel and concrete) fairly easily.
  • Sesame Street: In the "Coffee Plant" sketch, Grover prepares Mr. Johnson a cup of coffee from scratch by picking coffee cherries from a bush and placing them into a coffee maker. Before the fruit can be made into a beverage, the seeds (aka. coffee beans) must be separated from the fruit, then left in the sun to dry for a few days, then the parchment around the seeds—which forms during the drying phase—must be removed, then the seeds must be roasted, cooled and finally ground up in order to be turned into a cup of joe. If Grover did do all of these things, it would have taken at least a week for Johnson's coffee to be made.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Usually tried to avoid this by never clarifying what its exotic materials (naqahdah, trinium) were, compounds or elements or whatever. However, there is one big Narm for anyone who knows chemistry in the otherwise fantastic episode "The Torment of Tantalus", where both a brilliant scientist and several godlike Precursors think that electrons orbit atomic nuclei like planets around a star — something that has not been believed for decades. That could be poetic license (on the part of the characters, not the writers) — this conceit is used to create a universal language anyone could recognize if they had a very basic understanding of chemistry and physics. It's the archaeologist, and not the physicist, on SG-1 who figures out what it's supposed to be, and the "brilliant scientist's" scientific basis dates back to the '30s. The episode also states that it's the number of electrons, not the number of protons, that defines an element. It is the number of electrons that determines the gross chemical behavior of an atom. And of course the number of electrons in a neutrally-charged atom is determined by the number of protons.
  • Star Trek:
    • Features dilithium being used as a power regulator. Normally, dilithium would be a phrase for two covalent-bonded lithium atoms; but Star Trek ascribes it properties that allow it to regulate the matter-antimatter flow without blowing the ship to pieces. In Star Trek, the term dilithium is actually short for "2(5)6 dilithium 2(:)l diallosilicate 1:9:1 heptoferranide", a nonexistent compound which was ascribed implausible properties. Dilithium is able to do its job because its crystal structure repels ionized particles in a magnetic field, so it can be used to regulate matter and antimatter streams, thus allowing the reaction to occur at a controlled rate, whilst allowing the resulting "warp plasma" to exit in the direction required to get it to the warp coils in the nacelles. So while not technically a fuel, if a starship has cracked dilithium crystals and no way to replace or recrystallize them, they're sunk.
    • Scotty in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home pointed out after they landed in 20th century Earth that "We can't even do that [recrystallize] in the 23rd century." They then proceeded to nick some fuel (actually photons (!) ) from a nuclear aircraft carrier and do just that.
    • The several early episodes of ST:TOS, most notably "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the successful pilot, make reference to the ship requiring lithium crystals to regulate the warp drive, and indeed the climax of "Where No Man..." takes place just outside the "lithium cracking plant" on Delta Vega. The switch from lithium to dilithium is, according to Word of God, because a number of fans and people associated with the production pointed out that lithium doesn't work like that.
    • The story makes use of deuterium and anti-deuterium for powering their ships, though in Star Trek: Voyager, they had a strange tendency to forget that it's just an isotope of hydrogen and thus relatively common (less than 1% of all the hydrogen in the universe, but still, there's a lot of goddamn hydrogen; specifically, 75% of the entire universe is hydrogen). With the technology available to Starfleet, converting protium (standard, neutron-free hydrogen, which is over 99% of all hydrogen) into deuterium is a relatively trivial operation.
    • A recurring threat in later episodes of Star Trek: Voyager were the Malon, a race with the hat of environment-wreckers who do so for profit. The "anti-matter waste" produced by Malon technology is highly unstable and terribly dangerous even under safe storage conditions, which makes carting it off and dumping it in someone else's backyard one of the riskiest and most profitable occupations in Malon society. ...never mind that matter/anti-matter reactions result in the total annihilation of both leaving no physical by-products behind.
    • In fact, there had been a TNG episode years earlier in which terrorists invaded the drydocked Enterprise to steal a highly explosive waste product created as the ship's dilithium crystals wore down. This explosive was called "trilithium", but does not appear to bear any relation to the substance in Star Trek Generations (And Riker doesn't even recognize the name in the latter).
    • "Duranium-235" occasionally referenced here and there ("duranium" being a strong building material used for most sane space vessels in the Trek Verse) implies an isotope of an element... thing is, if there is an interesting property of any isotope with atomic weight 235 (protons and neutrons like to band together in particular configurations, making an atomic weight very likely to give away what element the atom is), it's almost certainly good ol' uranium (U-235 being the isotope of uranium prized for its fissile capabilities). If "duranium" is instead a future term for "depleted uranium" (a common fan theory; canon avoids clarification), well, that would be U-238.
    • As of Voyager season 1, there are supposedly 246 known elements (and in the episode where this is mentioned, they discover the next one). The ones unknown to modern science seem to have new and interesting properties, but the upper limit of the transuranic elements science has been discovering lately are invariably so extremely radioactive that they decay into more normal and stable elements very quickly. While fictional subatomic particles to differentiate things a bit more could patch up this outlandishly high number of elements, such an explanation hasn't been offered... to date, anyway. (To be fair, the episode in question with the 247th element pays lip service to a "stable, transuranic element inside a natural environment" being "a first", and leaves the atomic mass at a vague "over 550", but such properties in a freakishly heavy atom are unlikely, to say the least.) note 
    • No discussion of the Trek universe's chemistry and physics would be complete without the list of particles in Star Trek.
    • James Doohan, in order to provide consistent answers to fans as to the inner workings of the Enterprise, actually put together his own 'cheat sheet' based upon his understanding of science (he had attended a technical school where he excelled in math and science prior to his military service and acting career). During the later Trek series, both Jonathan Frakes and Robert Beltran asked the writing staff for a similar 'cheat sheet', but were disappointed to find out that by that point the science of Star Trek was being made up as the writers went along without even any internal consistency (much less accuracy to real-life).
    • A Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Night Terrors" had aliens providing "one moon circles" as a clue that they needed hydrogen.
    • In one episode of Voyager, a world made of water is in danger because their "oxygen mining" activities are increasing the density of the water. You can't increase water density by removing the oxygen from it....
  • Tales from the Crypt: There's an episode in which an ulcer-plagued soap-maker is murdered by his wife, who dumps his body in one of his rendering vats and turns him into a stack of bath products. She uses one of these soap bars in the shower, only to be fatally burned by the residual acid from his stomach... which is impossible, as turning fats into soap requires adding enough lye to give it a neutral to alkaline pH. The episode does have an implication that the melting is more the husband getting his revenge from beyond the grave rather than the chemistry.
  • In season 4 of Alias, one episode features a substance called Ice Five, which is functionally identical to Vonnegut's Ice Nine. (Yes, there is a real ice V, and just like ice IX it's only stable at high pressures and temperatures below the ordinary freezing point of water.)
  • The CSI episode "Fur And Loathing" is already known by furries for its woefully inaccurate portrayal of the fandom. One of the most criticized scenes is the moment in which the fandom is in a party and people start having sex with eachother. A glance at the materials of which most high-quality expensive fur suits are made of already reveals that such a thing would result into a massive series of deaths due to heat exhaustion.
  • One episode of Midsomer Murders ("The Straw Woman") had a reverend die when his cape mysteriously caught fire. It turned out that the killer had drenched it in a solution of phosphorous in toluene, which started to burn, when the toluene had evaporated. However, toluene has a strong gasoline-like smell, which the reverend would have noticed, and furthermore the evaporation would take heat from the surroundings, making the cape icy cold and near-impossible to wear.
  • The X-Files season 2 episode "Firewalker" features a deadly parasitic fungus that grows inside volcanic caves. Scully reads from the annotations of the scientist who discovered it that the fungus' metabolism is based on converting hydrogen sulfide into silicon dioxide (so the victims are found with sand inside their lungs), and the paper she's holding actually displays the formula "H2S → SiO2". As a chemical reaction, this makes no sense, because you can't chemically convert one element into another, and this "process" takes hydrogen and sulfur to magically create silicon and oxygen. Just because the Latin names for sulfur (Sulphur) and silicon (Silicium) both start with an "s", doesn't mean they're the same element. It should probably be noted that Scully is a doctor of medicine - she should know basic chemistry.

    Music Videos 
  • In the music video to Eminem's "Stan", Stan pours a liquid on his hair and it turns blond within seconds. That's not how bleaching works and the chemicals should have hurt his face.

  • When the party gets to the bottling factory in the Cool Kids Table game Here We Gooooo!, one floor is where the soda is carbonated by boiling it. Though Josh does state that this is for the sake of the level design and knows that it's not how it works in real life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In 2300 AD, from Game Designer's Workshop or GDW the element tantalum is used in "stutterwarp drives," the type of FTL employed in that universe. Given the importance of interstellar travel, acquiring and ensuring the security of tantalum supplies is an important strategic consideration.
  • According to the Shadowtech sourcebook for Shadowrun, Ruthenium-based polymers are used in the production of cloaking suits, which can take input from several cameras and automatically change colors to hide the wearer. Ruthenium is chemically part of the platinum group and is actually very useful and versatile (as, in conjunction with other materials, a hardener, a superconductor, and a catalyst in creating certain alloys), and can actually absorb light very efficiently, but in a method useful for solar panels, not cloaking devices.
    • The "Anarchy Subsidized" mission describes the telecommuncations hardlines in the Neo-Tokyo subway as passing through "galvanized titanium" pipes to protect them from mischief. It's not logical or even possible to galvanize titanium (the corrosion-resistant coating wouldn't adhere to the already corrosion-resistant metal).
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Promethium is also used as flame(throwe)r fuel. At least in this case it's made explicit that "promethium" is used as a catch-all term for this type of fuel, and isn't actually referring to the element.
    • Promethium is not just flamer fuel, it's used as a catch-all for crude oil and all its liquid byproducts - vehicles and power stations run on it, machines are lubricated by it, and so on. Which actually brings it right back to this trope, since it's often depicted as behaving in ways that oil really doesn't. In particular, it contains far more energy than real oil can, and underground crude reserves are apparently highly explosive.
    • Its use of "depleted deuterium" in bolter rounds is particularly bad science: you can't even get depleted deuterium as it's a stable isotope. Apparently this was a spelling/editing error; the writers are still kicking themselves over it.
    • Standard bolter rounds (and apparently some other forms of armor-piercing ammunition) are tipped with "diamantine", implicitly some form of super-hard metal or compound, but drawn to basically look like a sharp-pointed diamond, tip out, which may or may not actually be what it is. It was designed when Terran weaponsmiths realized that armor existed which couldn't be penetrated by any known weapon. Of course, this also meant they had to develop even stronger armor, which only lead to stronger weapons, from increasingly bizarre combinations of Unobtanium that make modern chemists' and physicists' heads explode.
    • Meltaguns are pretty iffy too. There's two separate descriptions on how they work (some sources say these are two different weapons that share the same function and thus are both commonly known as meltaguns). One version is that they cause thermal agitation, cooking the target alive. This explanation doesn't really break any laws of physics (although you'd need a lot of energy to heat metal to the melting point, and you'd have to keep the heat from dissipating), but the other makes considerably less sense, claiming the weapon fires a mixture of pyrol-petroleum jelly that has been forced to a sub-atomic stage and then ignited.
    • Neutronium is likely real, but it can't exist outside of a neutron star. It would immediately decompose into normal matter, along with a lot of antineutrinos and gamma radiation.
  • RuneQuest has mineable bronze. There is a form of bronze that might occur in an ore form—arsenical bronze. Of course, the fumes from working with it are toxic, which is theorized to be why several smith-gods (e.g. Hephaestus) are crippled.
    • It's a Justified example, as metals in Runequest are closer to analogs than duplicates of real-world metals. Bronze and most other metals (silver, gold, lead, tin, etc) are the bones of dead gods (and sometimes not-so-dead gods). The exception is iron, which was invented (not discovered, invented) by Dwarves to combat trolls and elves, and has inherent Anti-Magic properties.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons the dreaded rust monster has the ability to turn any metallic objects it touches to rust, even though in reality only iron and steel can rust. This can perhaps be Hand Waved as saying it causes non-ferrous metals to tarnish into uselessness rather than actually rust, as almost all metals can tarnish.

    Video Games 
  • For examples involving weapons and armor (especially prevalent in RPGs), refer to the Elemental Crafting sub-trope (aka RPG clichè #144).
  • X-COM: UFO Defense has Elerium-115 being one of the most important items to collect in the game. The 115, in this case, is most likely a reference to the conspiracy theories about element 115, known today as Moscovium, as it is used in much of the same manner. Unfortunately for them, [name]-[number] notation usually denotes an isotope, and the number is its atomic mass, not element number. The subsequent games in the series refer to it only as Elerium.
  • In old versions of Dwarf Fortress, bauxite was the only rock that magma won't melt, when there should have been many others. This is because the melting points for stones that should melt at higher temperatures weren't programmed in, and were left at the default temperature. This has been fixed in version 0.31.01 and up - nearly 30 types of stone, 6 of which form entire layers, are now magma safe.
  • Similar to the above, in Minecraft, you can safely contain lava with blocks of sand, glass or even (packed) icenote . You can even carry open iron buckets of it around in your pocket, and it stays liquid and hot until it comes into contact with water.
  • Tiberium from Command & Conquer. However, like kryptonite in Superman Returns, it's stated to be a compound rather than an element — Tiberian Dawn gives it as 42.5% phosphorus, 32.5% iron, 15.25% calcium, 5.75% copper, 2.5% silica (itself a compound), 1.5% unknown. Tiberium crystals do absolutely nothing and their prime property is that they're valuable because of the high concentration of valuable elements. Now, the Tiberium plant, on the other hand... By the time Tiberium Wars comes around all the Tiberium on the planet has changed. It is no longer a plant but just a crystal lattice made of (green or blue) protons held together by exotic particles. When atoms brush against the lattice it smashes them to pieces and steals their protons, turning it into more Tiberium. This has caused the majority of Tiberian-based mutants to die off.
  • Singularity revolves around the key to sending things backwards and forwards in time being the mysterious "Element 99". As you can imagine, Einsteinium does not work that way. The scientists in game had discovered the element well before synthesizations of such transuranic elements existed. It's therefore feasible, but not likely, that the scientists would have just given it an "element number" unrelated to its atomic number and way past anything on the then-smaller table.
  • The Sims 3:
    • In The Sims 3, plutonium is a green ore that can be found randomly scattered around; in real life it is a whitish metal that occurs as a result of uranium decay and so is never found by itself.
    • In Real Life, palladium is intermediate in price between silver and gold rather than being more valuable than the latter. However, this could at least by justified by different markets in The Sims than in the real world.
    • In later expansions, a sim can find Tiberium, which shows how plutonium could have implemented its dangerous properties: Sims can come down with Tiberium Sickness if they keep tiberium in their inventory, and will eventually die from exposure to tiberium. It also grows into crystal spires and makes funny noises, and is obscenely valuable when it has grown to full size.
    • Mercury was added in a later expansion; Real Life mercury is a silvery metal that is liquid at room temperature. Somehow, you can get solid, dark yellow ingots of solid mercury in The Sims.
    • And then you have all new metals like "mummitomium", "woohooium", "compendium", and "supernovium", the latter two of which are found by transfiguring a number of different metals together.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • One of the zeppelin manager NPCs tells you that the craft may explode "like a huge helium bomb." Then again, it was made by a goblin.
    • Thorium is another example. In the real world it's a grayish radioactive metal, but in Warcraft world it's a greenish metal that was used to make high quality armor at lv.60. Whether or not you'd want to wear a potentially radioactive pair of platemail pants is questionable. The game notes explicitly state that the "thorium" of Azeroth is entirely unrelated to real-world thorium.
    • World of Warcraft also has various dropped items of jewelry made out of Thallium, which is both unattractive and direly toxic.
      • The 2nd expansion adds cobalt as a base for armor and weapons, which would probably not be a good idea due to the potential toxicity of its compounds (cobalt metal isn't much more toxic than iron - but it is hard to purify) and tendency for cobalt ores to contain arsenic.
      • It's also cobalt-blue, exactly like metal cobalt isn't. (The metal is shiny grayish-silver, like most transition metals.)
      • There is also Titanium, which is classified as a rare metal. In real life Titanium ore is extremely common (though turning it into usable metal is another story), much more so than cobalt. Again, in the game it could be that Titanium is something completely different than its real life counterpart. Particularly since Titanium can be transformed into Titansteel, a material with an obvious connection to the Titans who created the world.
    • Surprisingly, copper, tin, and iron — the first three tiers of minerals a character can mine — all behave like their real-world counterparts. Except for the fact that armor made out of them can increase their wearer's strength and agility. Silver and gold, likewise, are pretty mundane as mined minerals; though for some strange reason, the vendor value for a bar of smelted gold is less than 1/10 of a gold coin — but then again, there's inflation.
  • MapleStory has Bronze Ore. Bronze, being an alloy of copper (which exists on its own) and tin, doesn't actually come straight from rocks. While this is probably just an honest misunderstanding, Steel Ore is utterly inexcusable.
    • Not as much as you think. There are (or at least were) mines near Toledo, Spain that produced natural steel, and in the Bolivian Andes, copper miners sometimes come across (very small) veins of natural bronze. Truth and fiction are very hard to tell apart at times.
  • Although Oleander is somewhat poisonous, its lethality is greatly exaggerated in Red Dead Redemption II where it's upgraded from "Could kill an adult if they ate a full meal of the stuff" to "residue capable of killing bears."
  • RuneScape also uses Promethium as a metal in its Dungeoneering areas. It is reddish and apparently incredibly resilient, making the best armour players can make with their own forge and hammer while in Daemonheim. Definitely not radioactive, definitely not unstable.
  • In the Crusader series, the Silencers' armor is made from polonium. Who knew that a soft, self-heating, unstable, toxic, radioactive, reactive element would be good for making armor?
  • Dead Space treats thermite as an explosive that blasts away a barrier made from scrap, while it actually behaves a lot more like an extremely hot liquid that melts through anything. Just slapping a pack to a vertical steel plate and igniting it would only result in the whole thermite pouring down the plate to the floor and only leaving a scorch mark on the plate.
  • The gnosis from Xenosaga are made from sodium chloride or, in other words, plain salt. Anything they touch that also happens to be organic will either turn into salt or a gnosis (Still salt, but the moving kind.) Added bonus for being able to merge with mechs, becoming some sort of hybrid in the process. Don't ask how it works, even the main cast don't understand it.
    • Hermetic Alchemy is just one of the eight or nine systems of esotericism that series plays with; in alchemy, salt symbolizes the "bitterness" of the first stages of self-knowledge, i.e., well, Gnosis. The Gnosis also seem to be associated with various kinds of resentment or obsession, both also salt-aspects in alchemy.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its epic fail of combining aqua regia note , orpiment, cuprite, and calamine all togethernote  to create simply "acid". No, the pH isn't known either.
  • Team Fortress 2 gives us Australium, an element only found in Australia, and the Team Fortress 2 world's equivalent of Gold (though gold also exists separately, implying Australium is an isotope). The fact that overexposure to Australium leads to Testosterone Poisoning says a lot about accuracy in this game.
  • According to the Atelier series, a vial of green and a couple of apples somehow creates pie. With crust and pan included, to boot. Want another flavor, or sprinkles or something? Toss in a hunk of metal too.
  • The models for most Argon fighters in the X-Universe games are fairly beat-up, including the odd spot of rust. Last time we looked, rusting required oxygen to be present.
  • Played with within the Final Fantasy series. Several games have Gold equipment, which would be too heavy and soft to be of any practical use, so most modern games backpedal on this, saying it is gold plated, trying to Hand Wave it. However, Final Fantasy III avers it once and for all in the Gold Manor with Gold Swords you find there have an attack power of ONE. However, they get some worth as you can sell them for a premium.
  • The story of Trauma Center: New Blood revolves around a fictitious mineral from the country of Culuruma which is known as Culurium and is highly valued for its almost limitless applications in the medical industry. Unfortunately, a revolutionary new pathogen, named Stigma, was accidentally created and discovered in a lab rat with Culurium-based synthetic blood.
  • Warframe tries to get away with several melee weapons with blades made of pure rubidium, in real life a very soft and reactive metal. So reactive, in fact, that rubidium metal needs to be kept in sealed glass ampoules or under a water-free mineral oil just to avoid reacting violently with the normal humidity in the air. Its melting point of 39 °C wouldn't help either.
  • King's Quest:
    • In VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, you need to cast a 'Charming a Creature of the Night' spell, which requires you to add a strand of hair and some sulphur to a skull full of embers. To progress, you have to add a spoilt egg to the skull to count as the sulphur. The problem is, eggs don't actually contain any elemental sulphur. They do contain sulphur-containing compounds, but adding a compound to something that requires a pure element is comparable to breathing carbon monoxide because it contains oxygen. This would also be redundant, because the hair added contained cysteine, which is a sulphur-containing amino acid. It's likely that they got confused due to the common misconception that sulphur is an odourant.
    • VII: The Princeless Bride makes a similar mistake. Rosella picks up some sulphur and repeatedly comments on its smell, even though sulphur has no smell. She then proceeds to burn it to put a troll to sleep, which would have produced sulphur dioxide, a toxic gas. So while it would have easily put the troll to sleep, he shouldn't have woken up any time soon. It's also notable that Rosella suffered no effects from this even though she was standing right next to the troll in question.
  • One possible method of assassinating someone in Crusader Kings II is to fill the basement of an inn they're expected to stay in with manure and wait for it to explode. This is pretty much Rule of Funny, as the conditions for this didn't exist in the Middle Ages: hog manure explosions in real life are a side effect of factory farming practices.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, Scientist Keely wants you to ignite flammable gas in Vault 22 to destroy a botanical experiment Gone Horribly Wrong. Keely explains that you need to detonate explosives right next to the ventilation system pumping the gas because it goes inert when mixed with oxygen. Fire needs oxygen to burn, and gas explosions are a result of the rapidly changing density of burning gas.
  • Lithium is one of the rarer and more valuable crafting materials in Subnautica, a game which takes place entirely underwater. It's found in solid deposits in many mid-level biomes and is used to create the tough plasteel alloy, used to reinforce deep-sea submersibles. This completely ignores the fact that lithium is not only extremely soft, but also highly reactive in water.

  • Grrl Power: Explicitly averted in "Meta analysis". Deus says the meteor under discussion has some exotic isotopes, but nothing that hasn't been seen before. It's the biology of the microbe remnants that's weird. The author's comments go into a bit of depth about how "elements we've never seen before" doesn't really work at this stage of terran science.
  • Greg of Real Life Comics once claimed that truck is made of truck, which he then attempted to insist was an element that appears on the periodic table between beer and pretzels.

    Western Animation 
  • It's common in cartoons for gems to glow, seemingly under their own power. A particularly silly example is from this Popeye short; a small emerald lights up a room.
  • Gold commonly emits "glow" lines in cartoons to denote its shine. But some animators made gold objects actually glow, like in the Tiny Toons episode "Journey To The Center Of Acme Acres".

  • The Simpsons:
    • On an episode, Homer was being coaxed to memorize the periodic table, to which he responds that he'll just write it on his arm. The response: "Including all KNOWN lanthanides and actinides? Good luck!" Finding new lanthanides and actinides is impossible, like finding new letters in the alphabet. Blame Glenn Seaborg and co, who filled in most of that gap of the periodic table in the '50s. The last was found in the 1960s, so perhaps the writer was just a baby-boomer who hadn't kept up with developments.
    • Parodied in the episode "Lisa Gets an 'A'," where Bart's classroom had a periodic table "sponsored by Oscar Meyer" with Bolognium (atomic weight: "delicious" or "snacktacular").
  • Phineas and Ferb: On one episode the MacGuffin is an element called "Pizazzium Infinionite," which is shown on the periodic table as element 104. In real life this spot is already taken by rutherfordium, which is significantly less cool than Pizazzium apparently is. The show uses "Pizazzium" and "Pizazzium Infinionite" interchangeably. In reality, "Pizazzium Infinionite", if it existed, would be a compound made up of Pizazzium atoms/ions and whatever element(s) "Infinionite" atoms/ions are composed of (and therefore does not belong on a periodic table of elements).
  • An Anvilicious episode of The Transformers featured a naturally occurring lake of electrum, a substance which inexplicably rendered Transformers invulnerable when they coated themselves with it. Not only would electrum be useless for this purpose, but no such mixture of gold and silver could be a liquid at normal outdoor temperatures. Hence, the pretty woodland glade which gets trashed in the quest for invulnerability should've been flash-fried long before the robots discovered it.
  • In the pilot miniseries of Inhumanoids, D'Compose is freed from a massive chunk of amber, then later trapped in a pit of liquid amber and re-imprisoned. While real amber softens and gets sticky when heated, it generally catches fire before it reaches its melting point. If the Redwoods had called their trap a resin pit, it wouldn't be this trope; as it is, you'd think a bunch of walking trees would know the difference between solid amber and liquid pine resin.
  • DC Animated Universe. Kryptonite is Unobtainium and, to an extent, can behave however the writers want. But it's still a radioactive mineral.
    • In the DC Animated Universe movie Superman & Batman: World's Finest, dissolving kryptonite in acid means it's "disappeared", and Superman is back to full strength. In the real world, dissolving radioactive isotopes in acid leaves you with a radioactive acid.
    • In the same scene, Joker releases Joker Gas from vents in the ceiling. While it too is a fictional material, it's typically depicted as being heavier than air and thus fills a room from the ground up. In this scene, however, it instead acts as if it's lighter than air so the cloud of gas stays up at the ceiling.
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Quartz (in Real Life, silicon dioxide — you may have encountered it in its common form of sand) is apparently very useful for both Time Travel and FTL Wormholes. Well, it does make pretty mystical-looking crystals...
  • In Marvel's Spider-Man, Harry and Spidey both decide to use silver jewelry to thaw the latter out of Harmless Freezing due to its high thermal conductivity. This apparently means the silver generates enough heat on contact to sublimate the ice without harm to Spider-Man's person.
  • In The Legend of Korra, pure platinum is described as being the one metal that's immune to metalbending. Reasonable by itself, but in-universe characters use metal chains to hold metalbenders and even build a Humongous Mecha composed almost entirely of the stuff. In reality, platinum is a very soft metal, not as soft as gold but far less than steel or titanium. Trying to use it as armor, as many things in the show do, would just make them extremely vulnerable to anything that isn't an attempt to metalbend it or even cause it to collapse and deform under its own weight, but instead it's shown functioning as being some sort of nearly-impervious substance.
  • 101 Dalmatians: To get Jasper's attention, Cruella yanks a bottle of what appears to be wine that he's drinking from out of his hands and flings it into the lit fireplace behind her, where it shatters and then explodes with a loud bang. Wine doesn't have enough alcohol in it to burn, even if aerosolized.

  • Plutonium and uranium get this a lot.
    • Their abilities are quite often exaggerated and made up, and they're usually depicted as glowing and green, not the dull gray they actually are.
    • They are also depicted as being far less flammable than it actually is. Uranium and Plutonium metal are both pyrophoric and can burn when exposed to air at room temperatures. This is why depleted Uranium is the substance of choice for anti-tank projectiles as they not only punch through the armour, but also ignite whatever's inside. This is also why early nuclear reactors using Uranium metal had a tendency to catch fire. Many early reactors used graphite blocks for a moderator, compounding the problem, as proved by Chernobyl. This is an issue because of how brittle uranium is in its metallic form. Pyrophoric means that it ignites very easily (bordering on spontaneously) when very finely divided. Because of how brittle it is, a slug of depleted uranium will likely shatter on impact into thousands, or possibly even millions of microscopic shards, more than sufficient for its pyrophoric nature to rear its ugly head.
  • Alchemy. Until the 17th century or so, current views of science indicated that all matter was made out of a few 'elements' or 'qualities' (fire, air, water, and earth being the most famous). The biggest problem with this view was that although it seemed logical to make statements like "heavy things contain earth" and "liquid things contain water" these assumptions are extremely inaccurate. It wasn't until the 18th century that a reasonably accurate understanding of chemistry emerged with the relationships between elements being discovered by experiment rather than intuitive associations; ironically, the idea that everything is made of up simple parts combined in many ways turned out to be true, though not in the form of the classical elements. Some experiments in modern particle physics are referred to as "alchemy" because they transform one element into another by adding protons.
  • Fictional titanium is presented as a fantastically strong Uber-Metal (Mobile Suit Gundam, we're looking right at you) when, in reality, it's actually no stronger than steel, it's just lighter and rust-proof. But the awesome thing about titanium is that no known human is allergic to it, unlike any other metal, so it can be used for dental implants and orthopedic plates, pins, and screws. So from a sci-fi standpoint, it is the one metal you can put in your body permanently and not have to worry about. Not only that, but for no known reason, human bones will graft onto titanium quickly and easily. This is a big reason it's so great for implants, plates, and pins.
  • Many people still seem to mistake diamonds' hardness for durability. If you ask a random person which breaks if you hit a diamond with a hammer, way too many pick the hammer. Just because diamonds are hard doesn't mean that they can take any kind of punishment. Window glass is harder than a pillow, but a pillow still survives strikes that destroy the glass. If you hit a diamond with a hammer, the diamond's crystalline structure insures you will get lots of little, sharp diamond shards and a hefty bill from the diamond's owner. Just because you can't scratch a substance doesn't mean you can't break it (in fact, martensite is the hardest steel crystalline structure, yet also one of the least resilient).
  • ThinkGeek sells salt and pepper shakers with the purported chemical formulae used to identify each one. As the main component of edible table salt, "NaCl" is acceptable to show which one should contain salt. However, "Pe+(Pe)r" is a stretch, especially so at an online store frequented by geeks and those with more than a passing interest in basic chemistry. Surely "C17H19NO3", the molecular formula for piperine, would be more apt; while piperine is only one of many constituents of black pepper, it is the compound responsible for the pungent flavouring. (It is explicitly stated that they couldn't fit the formulas of all the chemicals onto it, so they instead used Pe+(Pe)r.)
  • In fiction, antimatter is often represented as the future of energy supply. Currently, it's the molecular equivalent of a perpetual-motion machine — making antimatter requires a lot more energy than it releases (probably vastly more, as at present where it can only be found briefly in particle accelerators). In the future though it might theoretically be practical to have antimatter "factories" in space relatively close to the sun converting solar energy into antimatter (producing antimatter requires lots of energy) and exporting it as a sort of high-efficiency "fuel".
  • It's a common belief that sulfur smells, when in reality it's completely odourless. This is strange, since for you to smell something, it has to be a gas since you have to actually breathe it in, and sulfur is a solid under standard conditions. This misconception probably arose due to people confusing sulfur with sulfur dioxide (which is produced when sulfur burns) and hydrogen sulfide (which decomposes into elemental sufur, so is often found near sulfur deposits). Both of these are strong-smelling gases, so people who don't understand the difference between elements and compounds may get them mixed up.
  • Similarly, methane is often thought of as an odourant, probably due to the belief that farts are mainly composed of methane. Firstly, this is not entirely true. Some humans don't produce methane at all, one study showed that only five out of nine people had methane-producing archaea in their faeces. Even for people who do the amount is fairly small, usually about 10% by volume. If it was much higher they wouldn't ignite because methane only burns at concentrations lower than 17%. This doesn't stop people making fart jokes every time they hear the word "methane".
    • Regardless of the concentration of methane in farts, it it odourless. In fact, an odourant has to be added to natural gas (which is mainly methane) to make it detectable in the event of a gas leak. The smell of farts is mainly caused by volatile sulphur compounds (mainly hydrogen sulphide, methanethiol and dimethyl sulphide, in order of abundance) which make up less than 1% of the total volume of flatus. In fact, where you find methane-producing archaea you usually find hydrogen sulphide-producing bacteria due to both types of microorganism being anaerobic.
  • It's a fairly common trope that iron was just flat-out better than bronze, which is why the Bronze Age led into the Iron Age—some less scholarly articles have compared it to generational gaps in weapons technology, like Wild West-era repeating rifles versus Revolutionary War muskets. This isn't exactly true. Well-made bronze can actually be stronger than iron by weight and holds an edge a little better. The primary reason iron took over was probably economic. While iron took more energy to smelt than copper and tin, iron is an element, not an alloy. Copper and tin are not commonly found in the same place, and tin is much less common than copper; the Bronze Age powers, therefore, were largely founded on trade. This became a vulnerability once ironworking became commonplace: if a state loses access to either copper or tin, bronze production grinds to a halt, whereas as long as there is still one source of iron, things can keep going, if more slowly. Lastly, you can't sharpen bronze. If a bronze blade has gotten dull it needs to be reforged entirely, while, as the saying goes, iron sharpens iron. Ultimately, equipping large armies with weapons and armor just became simpler, cheaper, and with less vulnerability with iron than with bronze.
  • An extremely common mistake (in both real life and fiction) is thinking TNT and dynamite are same thing. While they are both explosive compounds, they are not the same.
  • There's a very old (pre WWII at least) conspiracy theory that suggests putting fluoride in the water supply is part of some secret plot to poison everyone. This is likely because fluorine in its elemental form actually is very poisonous and dangerous. Once it combines to form a compound however, said compounds are not necessarily dangerous (e.g., duct tape is mostly made of fluorine and is harmless).
    • The most famous representation in fiction of this theory is the Trope Namer General Ripper's belief that Russians are tainting American "bodily fluids" in Doctor Strangelove.
    • Also shows up in M*A*S*H, when Frank makes a bunch of Koreans he's supposed to be teaching English to chant, "We will not contaminate our drinking water with fluoridation."
  • The customer from this Not Always Right thinks that "oil is oil", and therefore any type of oil can be substituted for any other type. So she used cooking oil in her lawnmower instead of engine oil, and after the machine caught fire because vegetable oil has different properties than petroleum, got mad at the company who made the lawnmower for denying her warranty. (Although it is possible to burn vegetable oil in diesel engines, with a bit of tinkering.)

Alternative Title(s): Elements Do Not Work That Way, Artistic Licence Chemistry