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Containment Field

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A special forcefield that prevents a highly volatile power source, anti-matter engine core, Captured Super-Entity, an orb of Pure Energy, etc., from obliterating everything around it in a flash of pure white. Maintaining the Containment Field is the most important job of the starship's engineer, the wizard's acolytes, or the Barrier Maiden / Warrior. Inevitably, the Containment Field will begin to weaken, leaking dangerous radiation or reality-warping magic all over the place, and forcing the heroes to drop what they're doing and scramble to restore it (often sacrificing themselves in the process).

Should the heroes fail to restore the field, they may be forced to eject the engine core. Doing so will cripple their ship and leave them defenseless, but it beats certain death by vaporization. In the case of a beastie, it's Final Boss fighting time.

Alternatively they can be used for slightly more mundane but no less vital safety purposes, such as keeping all of the atmosphere in your ship from being sucked out in the event of a hull breach.

Note that engineers in Real Life prefer to design things with "inherent safety" in mind, so that if something goes wrong they shut down - or at least fail in a controlled way rather than explode spectacularly. For example, modern nuclear reactors are designed with the control rods suspended over rather than under the reactor, so that if power is lost to the electromagnets they all fall into the reactor and stop the fission process, rather than out of the reactor to cause a runaway reaction. Redundant safety systems are also encouraged if a process relies on them for safe operation. This can lead to some examples of Containment Fields (especially sci-fi ones) being a case of Artistic License – Engineering but hey, Rule of Cool.

The Containment Field often consists of an energy barrier — similar to Deflector Shields, but on the inside of the ship, and facing inward — though this is not always the case.

A Containment Field is a vital part in many Summoning Rituals.

See Going Critical. Compare Super-Power Meltdown.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In AKIRA, the cryogenic suspension chamber that houses Akira's remains acts as a Containment Field, and, naturally, begins to fail towards the end of the movie. Akira unfreezes, allowing him to return and destroy almost all of the city... again.
  • The use of a magnetic field (called an I-field in this universe) compressing the reactants is how most Gundams are able to fit a fusion reactor (which should, by all rights be the size of a small city) into a mech the size of a small building. As an added bonus, this means if said field fails we get to see Stuff Blowing Up. These containment fields are also responsible for most of the Mobile Suit's Energy Weapons, drawing particles from their reactor and using pressure from the containment field to fuse them into heavier particles, which can then be harnessed as various kinds of particle beams. The Beam Cannon and Beam Saber are both applications of this technology.

    The 'Mechs and some high-tech vehicles of BattleTech run off of small fusion engines the same way. The game rules assume that they simply shut down when damaged, instead of blowing up dramatically. Official but optional rules for cinematic explosions or the somewhat more plausible possibility that superheated plasma squeezed hard enough will rapidly expand if the pressure is taken away; not an explosion, but just as lethal to the 'Mech it happens to (less so to others).
  • Digimon Adventure: In the final battle of the series, the eight Digivices spontaneously work together to create an energy barrier that contains Apocalymon's self-destructing attack, which would have otherwise destroyed the real and Digital Worlds along with himself.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • In the supplementary manga, if the characters are training and he's around, Yuuno creates these to minimalize damage to the surrounding area. Of course, since his fields are trying to contain the attacks of some very trigger-happy Persons Of Mass Destruction, these tend to get destroyed.
    • Containment Fields are used in the first two seasons of the anime to contain magical beings within an area while keeping out non-magical beings who may be harmed in the battle, with Nanoha's ability to break a barrier as a significant element in second season. As the third season and beyond are set in worlds where even the innocent bystanders are magical beings who would be caught in them, these are rarely used.
  • Unique example in GaoGaiGar. Rather than make a barrier of some kind, the Dividing Driver "shoves" all materials out of its area in circular radius save for the Humongous Mecha and the Monster of the Week.
  • In Hell Teacher Nube, Tamamo's Dangerous Forbidden Technique, Megiddo, unleashes a monstrous blast of destructive magic at its foe. In order to prevent damage to the vicinities (and conveniently focus all its power on the foe,) Tamamo splits his bladed staff into four pieces around the target, generating an egg-like field of annihilation.
  • In RahXephon, Tokyo Jupiter was created by the Mulian forces by erecting a perfectly spherical field (with a swirling surface reminiscent of Jupiter's stormy atmosphere) around Tokyo, sealing it off from the rest of the world. Piercing it is a herculean task requiring tremendous energy expenditures and specialized equipment... or a godlike mecha. Whichever is easier to acquire.

    Comic Books 
  • Teen Titans: Supposedly the only thing Kid Flash can't escape from.

    Fan Works 
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) fanfiction Abraxas: The abandoned Russian Monarch outpost that Alan Jonah and his men are using has an old Titan-containing energy field like the one shown in the movie, which they keep the hybridized Dr. Vivienne Graham and San trapped behind.
  • Pokémon & RWBY crossover fanfiction Boldores And Boomsticks: The researchers at Devon Corp use such 'hard-light' barriers to contain the captured Grimm they picked up. While the barriers themselves don't fail, their batteries experience much more drain than normal due to the Grimm's untiring assault, and team RWBY are forced to deal with several of the units whose batteries give out mid-journey. Thankfully, the researchers listen to Team RWBY's expliantion about why such barriers can't be the end-all of Grimm containment, and snag recharging stations until their subjects can be moved to a proper enclosure.

  • A Tale of Two Rulers: Zelda stocks her magical lab with an emergency scroll to conjure up a long-lasting spherical Beehive Barrier around dangerous Magic Misfires.
    Ghirahim: How long will that hold him?
    Vaati: A few weeks, I think ... Then we can roll him through [the portal] and make him some other universe's problem.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • When a ghost is captured in the Ghostbusters films, it is then deposited into a laser containment grid. The light is green, the trap is clean.
  • Monarch use blue energy fields to keep the Kaiju contained in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. They try to use one on Mothra at the start, but it breaks down.
  • The EU technical explanation for how a lightsaber in the Star Wars movies work is that a lightsaber blade is plasma energy suspended within a containment field.

  • The magnetic cage/trap in Angels & Demons keeps the antimatter suspended in a vacuum, to prevent it from touching any regular matter and annihilating in a giant kersplosion of pure energy. Of course, some asshole has to go and unplug it. Luckily, it has a battery-backed UPS built-in.
  • The fusion reactors in Honor Harrington work by hyper-compressing the reactor plasma in "gravitic bottles." This has the effect that if said containment bottle is lost, even though David Weber is fully aware that a breached fusion reactor stops reacting, the sudden release of pre-existing heat and pressure is more than enough to make a truly scary kaboom.
  • In the Hyperion Cantos, containment fields are EVERYWHERE, and they are powerful. For example, it is noted that while the Hawking Drive is running, containment shields must be up at all times. Should they fail for even a microsecond, especially during acceleration and deceleration, all passengers on board would be compressed into a pile of jelly. Shields range from Class 1s, which can act as a seatbelt, to Class 10s, which deflects all radiation and even nuclear explosions and asteroids.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One has both the seal the Creator established around him, and then it's pierced in the attempt to tap into a new form of magic, and the resultant hole is patched. Making it a containment field on a containment field.
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles contains an interesting example: The Wizards erect a magical barrier around the castle that contains the sleeping king, one through which only they can pass. The Dragons erect a similar barrier (except that only they can pass through it) to keep the Wizards from doing whatever they want with the castle.
  • The suspensor field in The History of the Galaxy series is an interesting case. The field doesn't do any containment by itself, as it's too weak to hold anything large. What it does is take any dust particles or grains of sand or anything else small and press them together to form a barrier. Used on spaceships to seal off hull breaches, during digs in desert areas, etc.
  • In the Xandri Corelel book Tone of Voice, the Last Hope for Humanity use one of these to trap a number of Hands and Voices within an area, then drop raw meat into the water to attract the Disharmonies. They play to wait until the field is surrounded, then deactivate it and let the Hands and Voices get eaten.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Trek Verse, Faster-Than-Light Travel is powered by antimatter - when antimatter and matter meet, they go 'boom' with enough energy to generate a crazy amount of power. Of course, that means if the force field fails, a lot of antimatter is exposed to the air, which very much counts as matter. The result is your engine instantly goes up like a nuke, no ands, ifs, or buts. The Warp Core on every ship is encased in a Containment Field, which becomes in danger of failing with depressing regularity. The same goes for the antimatter storage. Ejecting them and stranding the ship in deep space is the only way of saving yourselves if a containment loss is about to happen. And the ejection systems almost never work.
    • There is also the use of force fields which work on a similar principle to the Deflector Shields and are used for everything from emergency containment of hull breaches to security and isolation fields.
  • The Slipstream Core on Andromeda is very similar, but, perhaps, even more volatile.
  • The main fusion reactor of Babylon 5 is maintained by elaborate machinery which acts as a Containment Field. It is never really talked about or in danger of failing. Only once did a homicidal maniac slap a bomb to it big enough to "blow through to the reactor", and in an alternate future that never happened Garibaldi "rigged" the reactor to blow. In 2280, when it is scuttled, the explosion clearly originates from the reactor. The words "Containment" and "Field" are never uttered together in either of those instances.
  • In Stargate SG-1, any Replicator held in a containment field is guaranteed to escape, since adapting to other species' technology is their main skill.
  • Given that its main characters are fugitives, Farscape didn't have too many encounters with these. However, in "Die Me Dichotomy," a visit to Diagnosan Tocot's facility reveals that the operating theatre is equipped with a shield that's designed to keep contaminants out of the area, partly for the safety of the patient, but mostly to prevent Tocot from becoming infected while working without his protective mask.
    Grunchlk: You see the green light? That's a biological neutralizer, that is: you could have the Karatonga plague in here, wouldn't touch him. Anywhere else? Pick yer nose and he's dead
  • Total Recall 2070: Detective Farve (an android with a two-way broadcast signal) is held inside a containment field after both him and his partner Hume are captured by rogue anti-machine agents from the Assessor's Office.

    Video Games 
  • In the Crusader games, this trope is often inverted because of No OSHA Compliance. While most of the reactors are shielded, most of the shields seem to be one-way; so the workers can get radiation poisoning but marauding rebels can't just blow 'em up.
  • The final chapter of Half-Life 2 is based around this trope.
    • The first part of Episode 1 deals with re-activating a containment field on the Combine's Dark Energy reactor, which is melting down. Surprisingly, reactivating the field does not resolve the situation: the reactor is already too far gone to be salvageable, and is going to explode anyway. The field will just delay the process.
    • The reactor (stated in-game to be a "dark fusion" reactor) was deliberately sabotaged by the Combine itself (the people who built it), and they set up a system to harness the energy of the detonation to create a super portal back to the Combine universe. So that's the reason why it blew up, not because it was Going Critical, but because it was deliberately configured to explode.
  • At the end of Might and Magic 6, you must cast a spell of Dark Containment around the machine you have to blow up. Otherwise you destroy the world, an epic FAIL after about 100 hours gaming.
  • The only time in the Ultima series that the story calls for casting Armageddon, the Avatar first performs the Barrier of Life ritual, to contain and focus the world-shattering power.
  • The maps of Hawken have a transparent blue force field surrounding them, to prevent players from leaving the confines of said map/s. A possible in-universe explanation is that the fields are used to keep the "Giga Structure" inside the contaminated areas and prevent them from spreading.
  • Activating and maintaining one of these is part of an engineer's everyday job aboard Space Station 13, as they keep a gravitational singularity from devouring the station. Of course disabling that field is very popular amongst traitor players.
  • Beyond: Two Souls: The Chinese underwater base has an energy field around the interdimensional portal to keep any nasty things that might jump out contained. This also has the unfortunate effect (for the heroes) of keeping Aiden out and causing Jodie to lose her mind control over the base commander.
  • Done twice in Final Fantasy XIV:
    • In the "End of an Era" video that brought an end to the 1.0 version of the game, Louisoux uses this on the Primal Bahamut to reseal him after he breaks out of Dalamud. Bahamut proves to be much stronger than the old mage and destroys it.
    • At the end of Patch 3.5 Part 1 mission, "Griffin, Griffin, On the Wall", Papalymo is forced to use the same exact spell to contain the brand new Primal that is given birth by the deaths of Ilberd and the other Ala Mhigo resistance fighters slaughtered by the Garleans. Though, it ends up killing Papalymo, it works and it gives the heroes time to initiate the Godzilla Threshold - finding and awakening Omega Weapon.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: A long-buried Eternal temple has a sarcophagus held inside an impenetrable bubble of pure Source magic, which can only be deactivated from outside by completing a puzzle. The sarcophagus imprisons an undead Eternal who opposed the Seven Gods in their apotheosis.
  • Heat Signature features the 'atmospheric retention' functionality, similar to those mentioned in Star Trek above; in the event of a significant hull breach in a ship, a shimmering blue force field appears across the affected area, preventing further loss of atmosphere. Unfortunately the field doesn't impede movement, and this is too slow to prevent anyone in the room from immediately being sucked out into space (unless the breach is at the other end of very long room). Still, it keeps most of the rest of the air inside the ship.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Magmatter in Orion's Arm needs to be kept in place by magnetic fields, since the stuff tends to destabilize atomic nuclei. It is a primary structural reinforcement for megascale structures, but it doesn't usually react with matter, instead passing through 99.9% harmlessly. It's very complicated, though a dozen or so pages detailing its behavior can be found on the site.
  • Scranton Reality Anchors in the SCP Foundation are a handy tool used to clamp down on various forms of tomfoolery regarding the laws of physics... the catch being that playing tug of war with the fabric of reality can end poorly. Or the anchor(s) might just blow up. Or blow up and then break reality. And long-term exposure to reality anchors has unfortunate side effects. And the devices are in-universe Black Boxes, with any number of increasingly concerning explanations. And they aren't 100% effective. If they even work at all on a particular anomaly. But other than that, they're great.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: In "Ben 10 vs. the Negative 10", the Sub-Energy is protected by a sonic force field. Wearing special goggles/headphones allows you to see it.
    • Ben 10: Omniverse: The 5-D Contumelia planned to create the universe by detonating an Annihilargh in an empty dimension. However, Maltruant has replaced it with his own Annihilargh. Prior to dropping it out of the ship, it is protected by an extradimensional barrier that the Contumelia claim is impossible to breach. Ben proves them wrong by having Skurd form a sword out of Alien X's DNA, allowing him to slice through the barrier. The Contumelia find this "interesting".
  • Coop accidentally traps Megas in a containment field in an episode of Megas XLR; he had meant to put up his Deflector Shields, but messed with the settings beforehand.
  • The Real Ghostbusters (and the source movies) has its Ghost Traps and it's Containment Unit, which is just this trope specialized for ghosts. Bad Things happen if you shut off the containment unit. Or if you try to contain something very powerful. Or if Ray sneezes near it. Or...
  • Every Gem in Steven Universe is able to create a small bubble-like force field. Gems' bodies are Hard Light projections from their gemstones, and enough damage causes the body to dissipate and the Gem must create a new body upon recovering from the injury. This leaves you with a window of time to make a bubble around the gemstone, keeping it in stasis so your enemy doesn't regenerate. This is the number one way of dealing with the Monster of the Week or some dangerous artifacts, which also have gemstones. This is because the Gem Homeworld is pretty cruel when it comes to enemies, or underlings who've failed, or just anyone considered to no longer be of use. The monsters are formerly sentient Gems who've been turned into mindless beasts by a Fantastic Nuke during the Big Off Screen War and the artifacts are Gems who've been unable to regenerate as their gemstones were used to power technology - some in a very conscious, very hellish state. However, the bubbles are quite prone to being popped - they're actually quite weak, meant to make inert Gems stay inert, not resist damage from active Gems. There's a reason the bubbles are kept in a room only The Leader Garnet can access; it'd be entirely too easy to bump into one, pop it, release a monster that would most likely pop others just by running around, and then we're all pretty much screwed. As it is, bad things have been accidentally freed more than once.

    Real Life 
  • Modern particle accelerators are actually capable of concentrating destructive amounts of energy in their beams. A failure of the magnetic fields which steer the beam is a very real eventuality, and accelerator designers implement complex machine protection systems that rapidly react to those events in order to avoid damage to the expensive equipment. Simulations show that one beam from the European LHC, at full power, could punch through forty meters of solid copper in 86 microseconds. Similarly, the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider (or RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab in New York contains redundant magnetic containment for its high-energy ion beams; it also needs gigantic thicknesses of solid marble and heavy metal (lead, iron, etc) to 'catch' the beam safely when it's dumped out of the accelerator ring. Both RHIC and the LHC also employ complex electronic and mechanical systems that essentially act as a mechanical 'containment field', a la Babylon 5
    • Lead and other heavy metals don't work for a beam at the energies the LHC produces. They use a 10-ton rod of graphite and move the beam around so it doesn't melt it.
  • Fusion occurs at such high temperatures that, to contain the (generally isotopes of) hydrogen undergoing fusion, you use a magnetic field to keep that superheated fuel away from the walls of the reactor. Fusion reactors have been built and have been run, but the energy required to create, sustain, and contain the reaction has so far been greater than the energy it has been possible to generate (except for fusion bombs, which are obviously impractical for any application that doesn't involve Stuff Blowing Up).
    • Even smaller devices like fusors found in many colleges, which usually cannot produce net energy, require a massive amount of shielding. In these cases, though, it's less a matter of the released plasma or superheated fuel being an issue, and more a concern about releasing hard X-rays and fast neutrons bouncing around should the lead glass break.
      • However, said magnetic fields not only contain the reaction, they also create the high pressure environment needed for the reaction to occur. Unlike fission, which left to its own will cascade and must be controlled with, yes, control rods, fusion requires a precise environment in term of pressure and temperature. Should the fields fail, then the fusion reaction will simply cease. In other words, if you lose containment, you don't get a boom: the reactor shuts down. Radioactive byproducts of the reaction may still leak out though, depending on how the reactor is engineered. The plasma itself may not instantly cool down either and might pose a threat to nearby objects.
      • Inertial Containment Fusion uses lasers to initiate and contain a fusion reaction. The largest and most powerful lasers in the world, big as football fields, some of them rated in the Terawatt range, are required. Like Magnetic Containment Fusion, failure of the lasers just causes a failure of the fusion reaction, and the reactor shuts down rather than blow up spectacularly.
  • Antimatter also needs to be suspended in a magnetic field to prevent it from contacting matter and exploding. Which means that only individual subatomic particles of antimatter can be stored for any length of time, like a positively charged field would contain positrons (anti-electrons) but not anti-protons or neutral atoms of antimatter.
  • As mentioned in the intro above, modern Fission reactors typically feature the containment rods being held up by electromagnets. In the event of an emergency, the electromagnets fail and the control rods drop into the reactor to shut it down. In this scenario, the Containment Field actually contains the safety device rather than the potentially dangerous reaction. Such an arrangement is but one example of a "Fail-Safe" design.