National Science Fiction Day is on January 2, which is also Isaac Asimov's birthday. Along with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein, Asimov is considered one of the genre's “big three” most influential writers of all time.
Some of the best sci-fi elements can feel bombastic, exaggerated and entirely out-of-this-world. However, they might not be as far-fetched as they initially seem. Human imagination is practically limitless, and sci-fi offers many examples of how pushing the boundaries of reality in stories has contributed to real-world technological advancements.
With that in mind, is it possible to compare fictional elements to the real ones we use in manufacturing? Could the far-out fictional elements and alloys you know, and love bring about real change in the world? Let's examine four exotic, unearthly, and potentially groundbreaking elements from the fantastical world of science fiction.
The Wonders of Fictional Elements
Sci-fi's beauty lies in its ability to stimulate curiosity and inspire ideas free from the confines of present-day knowledge. You probably recognize these four iconic fictional elements.
Adamantium is the Marvel Universe's forged wonder alloy, representing the epitome of resilience and strength — far beyond the realms of reality. It was named after the Ancient Greek metal “adamantine,” which may have simply been iron, described as one of the toughest and most valuable metals. Wolverine's claws, X-23's claws, Lady Deathstrike's claws and Battlestar's shield are all fashioned from adamantium.
Carbonite is a cryogenic material in Star Wars. It has the power to freeze living organisms, facilitating long-term transportation and preservation. In theory, it's an amorphous solid structure with embedded carbon-based molecules that can halt biochemical processes without causing cellular damage. As the world's wealthiest folks continue the eternal quest for eternal youth, cryopreservation innovation is highly sought after.
Element Zero (eezo)
Mass Effect's eezo's hypothetical properties facilitate mass manipulation. When exposed to powerful electrical currents, eezo releases dark energy that decreases the mass of anything in its field. Within the Mass Effect universe, it's primarily used to enable faster-than-light travel without incurring time dilation. You could compare its action to the deliberate flow of current in a semiconductor — albeit an exotic one.
Kryptonite is a fabled mineral with unpredictable and multifaceted properties. Most people associate it with a distinct green glow, although black kryptonite is said to be its most dangerous form. While it can bestow astounding abilities upon mere mortals, this fearsome element weakens Superman's invincibility, rendering him vulnerable.
Can Fiction Meet Reality?
The Ancient Greeks predicted air travel, space travel and advanced weaponry. 2001: A Space Odyssey's Hal predicted Alexa, and Jules Verne's 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, conceptualized space travel when the notion seemed completely absurd. So yes, fiction can definitely meet reality.
Let's look at the current potential for our four fictional elements to manifest in daily life.
To make adamantium, some serious advancements in crystallography and nanotechnology would need to occur. State-of-the-art nanomaterials coupled with advanced crystal growth might pave the way for superdense, resilient alloys.
Innovations in molecular assembly and manipulation at the nanoscale would be the bare minimum for fashioning structures with adamantium's renowned durability. As it stands, titanium alloys with their well-organized crystalline structures, chromium with its resistance to oxidation and advanced ceramics such as silicon carbide vaguely align with adamantium.
Existing cryopreservation research can't freeze us in time, contrary to Star Wars lore. Scientists are, however, exploring methods of preserving matter at ultralow temperatures, and they're using carbon. Cryoprotective agents could potentially replace water in cells, regulating the rate of ice crystal formation, water transport and nucleation.
To emulate eezo's properties and open doors to FTL travel and mass manipulation, we'd need to make headway in theoretical physics. In particular, advancements in dark matter, exotic particles and superconductors could spark the development of technologies resembling eezo, potentially revolutionizing space and time travel. As it stands, exotic superconductors and ferromagnetic materials are the closest we've come to eezo.
Although it could be said to mirror plutonium's unstable, fissionable atomic nuclei (and the resulting ionizing radiation release), kryptonite isn't something we'd want to develop in labs. Nanoscale targeting could potentially help scientists direct radiation so it targets specific tissues — but this type of technology would primarily be used for oncology rather than evil!
Quantum Quandaries and Chemical Conundrums
Comparing real-world and sci-fi elements reveals an intriguing interplay between imagination and innovation. Examining parallels between the two can help us go further in bridging speculation with experimentation and tangible scientific discoveries. History teaches us that, eventually, no concept or vision is too bold, ambitious, or futuristic.