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Chemistry Can Do Anything

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"Chemistry has it all: Mad scientists, world changing revelations, the practical, the impractical, medicine, bombs, food, beauty, destruction, life and death, answers to questions you never knew you had."

It's amazing what you can do with a few chemicals in a science fiction story. Mix a bit of Phlebotinum salt with a dash of suspension of disbelief, heat it to over 9000 degrees and you have yourself a "chemical substance" capable of whatever you want it to do. A character can down a shot of it, inject it into their body, pour it into a machine. In almost no circumstance will it make them throw up, kill them, or ruin the machine. Instead it will create whatever wondrous or horrible effect the author desires.

See also: Lightning Can Do Anything, Radiation-Induced Superpowers, Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything, and Toxic Waste Can Do Anything. It is of course a form of Applied Phlebotinum. Sci-Fi Counterpart of Alchemy Is Magic. Super-Trope of Super Serum, Psycho Serum, Hollywood Acid, and others.


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  • Ionized jewelry such as this claims to use 'negative ions' which are 'abundant in nature through plants, waterfalls, rainstorms, and forests' to help things like hay fever, asthma, the immune system, relaxation, sleep, energy levels, concentration, joint and muscle aches, and arthritis, by 'balancing you'. Wikipedia says that any benefits from these are due to the placebo effect.

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The agreed-on origin for the Joker, who plummeted into a disposal tank full of various chemicals. In Death of the Family, Batman asides that he's studied the crime scene and knows the mixture by heart, but on sleepless nights finds himself poring over the list all over again. A combination like that should have eaten the Joker alive. (Batman gets trapped in the very same tank by Harley Quinn, and the chemical mixture chews straight through his Batsuit.)
    • One possible origin for the Joker reveals him to be an ex-chemist, which would explain his expertise in poison and acid weapons. His patented "Joker" venom leaves the victim with a rictus smile — the clown's calling card.
  • Captain America gets his powers from a "super-soldier formula". Later, the treatment was elaborated with a radiological treatment to activate and stabilize the chemicals.
  • Daredevil gets his powers from radioactive chemicals he's exposed to after a car accident.
  • The Flash:
    • The Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, got his powers from fumes given off by "hard water" spilled in a chemistry lab. In Real Life, hard water is simply water which contains calcium or magnesium ions, so the most it would really be able to do is give off steam.
    • The Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, got his powers from a chemical rack being struck by lightning.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Adult Version of Jekyll and Hide: A formula can work miracles, including turn you into a woman, with a totally different stature, much younger, with longer hair and make-up.
  • Sexual Chemistry: The key to this film's plot is a drug that not only transform the user into the opposite sex, but makes them younger, grows their hair and nails (and massive breasts), and epilates their body. It also seems to apply makeup. Given that the formula involved input from someone who's specifically stated to be a witch, the writers evidently had to admit that this looked more like magic than science.

    Films — Animation 
  • Honey Lemon in Big Hero 6 has a purse which functions as a compound mixer, creating throwable chemical balls that can do whatever she needs them to do. This can range from restraining gel to powerful explosives.

  • Most potions in Impractical Magic are not magical, but abuse chemistry in one way or another. A "stamina potion" is just a fancy way of saying bottle of caffeine and amphetamines.
  • A classic example is the potion from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that causes the transformation. The potion is made from a 'blood-red liquor' called a 'tincture' and a 'crystalline salt of a white colour'.
  • In Herbert West–Reanimator, bringing fresh corpses back to life merely requires the injection of the right chemicals. Apparently these chemicals diffuse very quickly since they'd be injected into a body with no blood circulating.
  • The Invisible Man: The title character's invisibility is chemical in nature. The formula "entails taking opium and another drug, which makes his blood boil, then processing his body in a radiator engine." Wells' Griffin was already psychologically unstable before the process, but cooking the brain a couple different ways probably didn't help.
  • In an interesting invocation of the trope, The Skylark of Space (one of the earliest Space Operas) begins with the discovery of a transuranic element which catalyzes a direct matter-to-energy conversion, with the energy emerging as a form of propulsion (as well as several other useful forms).
  • Isaac Asimov, who himself was a professor of biochemistry, once wrote a series of satirical articles about the "endochronic properties" of "resublimated thiotimoline", a substance that dissolves in water before the water is added.note 
  • In one of Norman Hunter's Professor Branestawm stories, a formula that could bring pictures to life came in contact with some old photos, resulting in multiple copies of himself, Colonel Dedshott and Mrs. Flittersnoop and, in a particularly comic case, a half-policeman who was in one shot by mistake. (He kept hopping around the house saying "Pass along p—", which was all he could manage of what the real policeman had been saying when he was caught on film.)
  • When Ben and Daniel are breaking out of prison in The Leonard Regime, they stumble across a lab full of chemicals. Ben, knowing what the chemicals were, managed to create a mixture that could kill all of the guards when breathed in.
  • The shrinking and growing formulas from the Golden Age science fiction novel, The Girl In The Golden Atom. The really screwy part is he can find the perfect chemicals to resize himself when he's allegedly in a subatomic environment.
  • In The Man Who Evolved, by Edmond Hamilton, a man who goes through accelerated evolution shows off his increased intelligence by making gold out of common chemicals. Justified — up to a point — as Super Intelligence would make him capable of things that are impossible according to normal science.
  • Doctor Omega by Arnould Galopin provides a rare example using metalurgy rather than liquid chemicals. Apparently the secret to antigravity is just smelting some metal until it starts being repelled by gravity rather than attracted to it. But if you don't smelt it just right your workshop explodes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Family Matters, Urkel creates a machine that can create clones or turn people into other people (e.g., Steve Urkel into Stephan). It required vaguely described "chemicals" to work, which were poured into a slot in the machine.
  • Look Around You ascribes several ridiculous properties to chemicals such as a mixture of sulphur and champagne granting the drinker Eye Beams. Of course, this is all part of the joke.

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy V, the Chemist class is considered a Game-Breaker by experts because of its variety of powers: HP Drain, loads of status buffs, debuffs, and plenty of tools that make the game a walk in the park. They're a Guide Dang It! though, as the game doesn't tell you the ingredients for their Mixes.
  • Creatures, a complex life simulator, uses "chemicals" for monitoring most of the Creature's inner workings — metabolism, antigens and antibodies, drives like hunger and adopting a right kind of gait for each type of terrain. In some installments of the game, the player can directly inject any of these chemicals in their Creatures, allowing almost anything from clinical immortality to horrible, painful death.
  • Escape From St. Mary's: The chemistry department brews teleportation mixtures from chemicals that you find and distill.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Peach mixes chemicals in the proper proportions and heats the mixture for just the right duration to get an invisibility potion that — once she gets naked — allows her to sneak around the fortress and get data from a disk in Grodus' room.
    • Also, X-Naut PhDs make various potions that X-Nauts use in battle to: restore HP; grow themselves (a buff); shrink the enemy (a debuff), set the enemy on fire (persistent damage), and more.
  • The various potions you can mix with the chemistry set in The Sims.


    Western Animation 
  • Chemical X in The Powerpuff Girls (1998) — it has the power to create life, give any living being superpowers with no side-effects, and apparently, it's in abundant enough quantities to be regularly abused.
  • In American Dragon: Jake Long, Spud goes to a school for child geniuses. In a chemistry demonstration, one student makes a floating cloud in the shape of Pi and another manages to rapidly grow a statue of the teacher.
  • The Transformers (aptly named) episode The Insecticon Syndrome had Ratchet and Wheeljack formulate an antidote to the Nova Power Core that was about to explode in the Insecticons' stomachs, to stop them from blowing up and destroying most of Earth.
  • Abused by Dr. Viper in SWAT Kats, with mutagenic chemicals called "Katalysts" which seem to produce same-generation mutations and cause creatures to grow many times their size on simple contact.
  • Fireman Sam: In one of the original stop-motion episodes, Norman Price gets hold of a seemingly quite ordinary children's chemistry set. Somehow he manages to use the contents to create a small explosion and a cloud of toxic fumes so potent that the local fire brigade need full breathing apparatus to enter the room.

    Real Life 
  • When you think about it, plain-old water could be looked at as a phlebotinum. Ask any chemist if water is a particularly special chemical, and they might go on for minutes about how frickin' weird a chemical it is. And given how ever-present it is on Earth, how useful it is for so many things, and how it allows for and plays so many different roles in chemical life, one even starts to realize that some green-rocks aren't this weird.
  • Truth in Television as all matter in the universe is made up of chemicals. Chemistry is the basis of all life on Earth. In terms of what can happen in the universe as we know it, chemistry really can do almost anything. Or to put it another way, anything that can be done is chemistry.
  • In fact, almost all of the applied phlebotinum we have today is the result of Chemistry, and even the bits that are physics require stuff made from chemicals in order to work. Examples include soap, detergents, sugar, molasses, alcoholic beverage, rubber, plastics, steel, gunpowder, separated crude oil, medicine... the list goes on.
  • The American Chemical Society used to (and may still) give out sheets of stickers most of which read "THIS is a result of CHEMISTRY". There are also a couple per sheet that say "This is NOT a result of chemistry... OR IS IT?"