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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    Default Turning Air Into Solids

    There's a reasonably common trope of a super-powered individual being able to manifest solid material out of thin air. Apparently it's called Molecular Manipulation. I don't have a chemistry background, but most elements in the air tend to be gaseous at room temperature, like oxygen and nitrogen, so what would this mystery wall be made out of?

    Let's say this person is able to freely manipulate chemical bonds; they can take pure oxygen and hydrogen and turn it into water, or split water freely. However, they can't change the elements already present or move subatomic particles around. Let's also say energy requirements are irrelevant, and it won't cause a massive explosion or anything.
    Given all of that, what would they be able to create just from the air?

    In other words, what's in the air that can be turned into a solid?
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Carbon dioxide can be broken apart into carbon, and the carbon can be used to create all sorts of things from the various allotropes of carbon.
    Water could be broken up and the above carbon could be added to the resultant hydrogen and occasionally oxygen to make polymers aplenty.
    What can you make? In short, lots of things.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    There's a lot of hydrocarbon remnants up there, this gives a big supply of Hydrogen and Carbon (also from CO2 and Methane) but also a lot of other chemicals in trace amounts, e.g. fluorine and chlorine in the CFCs.

    So, from that you can probably re-make most hydrocarbons, though you may need to pull some of the atoms quite a few miles to get enough of a rarer element.

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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Ravens_cry View Post
    Carbon dioxide can be broken apart into carbon, and the carbon can be used to create all sorts of things from the various allotropes of carbon.
    Water could be broken up and the above carbon could be added to the resultant hydrogen and occasionally oxygen to make polymers aplenty.
    What can you make? In short, lots of things.
    So it boils down to "is there anything solid you can make out of carbon and stuff"
    In which case...uh...
    I think manifesting a wall of flesh out of the air now fits inside the limits of my own personal suspension of disbelief, okay then. Assuming some artistic license, but that's sold in bulk.

    I take it just "unnamed carbon polymers" would be enough for anyone not interested in breaking down the physics of a by-definition physics breaking ability?
    Last edited by Squire Doodad; 2021-05-13 at 02:22 AM.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Squire Doodad View Post
    So it boils down to "is there anything solid you can make out of carbon and stuff"
    In which case...uh...
    I think manifesting a wall of flesh out of the air now fits inside the limits of my own personal suspension of disbelief, okay then. Assuming some artistic license, but that's sold in bulk.

    I take it just "unnamed carbon polymers" would be enough for anyone not interested in breaking down the physics of a by-definition physics breaking ability?
    Would be enough for me. I'd have a rushing wind towards the place of synthesis as it occurred, perhaps an implosion if it happened fast enough, as air isn't very dense, but, yeah.
    Oh, another thing you can make: explosives. TNT is a hydrocarbon with some nitrogen atoms begging to break free. And air has nitrogen atoms aplenty. They make up the bulk of it, in fact.
    Last edited by Ravens_cry; 2021-05-13 at 02:31 AM.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Let's not forget about the nitrogen. Along with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, this is an important building block for pretty much any organic substance. Given that there are traces of other elements since things like sulphur dioxide present in the air, the only limitation is how much matter you have to build things from as air is pretty thin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radar View Post
    Let's not forget about the nitrogen. Along with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, this is an important building block for pretty much any organic substance. Given that there are traces of other elements since things like sulphur dioxide present in the air, the only limitation is how much matter you have to build things from as air is pretty thin.
    Pretty much. Life is pretty much air plus sunlight with some trace elements plants pick up from the soil then then pass onto us or the critters we eat or that the critters the critters we eat eat.
    Last edited by Ravens_cry; 2021-05-13 at 04:07 AM.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are the main component of all living things on Earth, precisely because they are available in the air. (Even all the water on surface of the Earth is there because it condensed out of the air and fell to the ground.)

    Sugar, starch, fat, alcohol, cellulose and lignin (that is wood), chitin, methane, propane, butane; ammonium, nitrate, nitroglycerin, TNT, and ANFO are all different combinations of these four elements. They offer you more options than probably any other four elements.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are the main component of all living things on Earth, precisely because they are available in the air. (Even all the water on surface of the Earth is there because it condensed out of the air and fell to the ground.)

    Sugar, starch, fat, alcohol, cellulose and lignin (that is wood), chitin, methane, propane, butane; ammonium, nitrate, nitroglycerin, TNT, and ANFO are all different combinations of these four elements. They offer you more options than probably any other four elements.
    And let's not forget modern carbon-based materials like nanotubes, which you can weave into many useful and durable things. Even making current conductors is not a problem, as graphene is entirely within possibility along with a whole family of polymers which can conduct like metals of semiconductors.

    Also diamonds, if you need something really sturdy.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Ravens_cry View Post
    Would be enough for me. I'd have a rushing wind towards the place of synthesis as it occurred, perhaps an implosion if it happened fast enough, as air isn't very dense, but, yeah.
    Air weights about a kilogram per cubic meter. This is a lot less than what you would need to make that bubble gum fantasy work, or to actually lift a little boy with a tiny plastic flying saucer looking balloon, but it doesn't sound unreasonable in terms of creating stuff from thin air. pulling the air from a 10x10x10 meter area for 1000kg of stuff to create say a large horse would seem like a reasonably doable thing.

    However, it's not just about the density of the air or its components, but also their proportions. Your typical air is around 78% nitrogen (N2), 21% oxygen (O2), 1% argon and something around 0.04% CO2. And only 12/44th of the mass of CO2 is carbon, so that ton of air in a 10x10x10m area contains around 0.1kg of carbon. A bit more if you get your friends to breathe out where you're working. To actually create a horse (ignoring all the many, many other major, minor and trace elements that make up a horse) you would need to pull the carbon from closer to ten thousand tons of air, over 200x200x200 meters. Depending on how exact your control is while pulling the molecules in, that could be a little disruptive. Although I'd actually argue that if you can then use that carbon to build a horse it's probably not disturbing at all. Making a horse from raw carbon requires some fine control over every individual atom.

    Without that fine control over individual atoms our options dwindle. To get even just anything made at all we would have to assume you can create the circumstances under which several different reactions take place and feed those reactions with the energy they need. Where you get that energy is another matter, which I'm inclined to file under "a wizard did it". Similar with how the whole reaction circumstances thing works. This way you could free the carbon from CO2 to make graphite, diamonds, and all sorts of small molecules, like medicines (the degree of purity is up to how well our wizard did it) or fuels. Even nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes and liposomes could be made, and polymers, but not any actually biologically useful form of proteins, DNA or materials with a significant mesostructure, like wood. And anything not made entirely of C, O, N and H atoms is still out too.

    Oh, another thing you can make: explosives. TNT is a hydrocarbon with some nitrogen atoms begging to break free. And air has nitrogen atoms aplenty. They make up the bulk of it, in fact.
    At this point I'm not sure there is much of a point in that. Changing CO2 into oxygen and fuel takes a bunch of energy, namely the amount of energy that would be released during the reverse reaction plus a tax based on how efficient your processes are. So if you can create TNT, or something else made mostly of stuff that can be used as fuel, like say a horse, then couldn't you just release that energy some other way? Just mindblast that wall you were going to blow up with the explosives? Or like, rearrange the wall's molecules with the same precision you use to pull the carbon out of air and build it into a horse? Sure, sometimes you want to blow something up while you're not near it, but on the scale of what a person capable of creating complex objects from thin air would semi-realistically be able to do explosives are a pretty tame trick.



    It's certainly a weird power to figure out.
    Last edited by Lvl 2 Expert; 2021-05-13 at 05:07 PM.

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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    If you want to avoid using carbon, which is only a tiny fraction of air, you could use Ammonium Nitrate. If you want to go with just the most common ingredients of air, namely Nitrogen and Oxygen, the only solid I can find is Dinitrogen Pentoxide, which is described as "an unstable and potentially dangerous oxidizer".

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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    C2N14, a solid at room temp. Just don't sneeze near it.

    https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipelin...s_more_or_less

    Related: how big of a purely nitrogen molecule would you need for such a substance to be a solid at room temp?
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Telok View Post
    C2N14, a solid at room temp. Just don't sneeze near it.

    https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipelin...s_more_or_less

    Related: how big of a purely nitrogen molecule would you need for such a substance to be a solid at room temp?
    Enough to reach space, basically. Not because of any math, but because it's melting at an outrageously low temperature under normal Earth conditions. Solid nitrogen melts at 63.23 K, so it's not achievable outside a lab.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    That's for N2. The question is if you could make an N10, N18, or N60 molecule that would have different melting points.

    Though from how I understand Nitrogren, it really only wants to be N2 and nothing else. To have multiple nitrogen in one molecule, you need to have other elements to keep them separated and stabilized. But give it just a good kick and the molecular bonds will break and all the nitrogen atoms come rushing towards each other forming an N2 molecule. For TNT, that kick needs to be quite substential. For nitroglycerin not so much. For C2N14 and NI3, it needs to be almost nothing.
    If you could even make an N4 molecule (not sure how one would do that), it would probably be the most sensitive explosive imaginable.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    If you don't want the atoms to move much and don't want the results to spontaneously combust again, you won't make much more than a few specks of dust. You really need to pull in a lot of air to make something solid out of it. Mostly because water vapor is rare with 0.4% and so is carbon dioxide with 0.04%.

    Almost as if air is gaseous for a reason.
    Last edited by Rydiro; 2021-05-14 at 05:04 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    If you could even make an N4 molecule (not sure how one would do that), it would probably be the most sensitive explosive imaginable.
    Tetranitrogen is a thing, briefly. Lifetime is apparently on the scale of microseconds.

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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidSh View Post
    Tetranitrogen is a thing, briefly. Lifetime is apparently on the scale of microseconds.
    Yay! I learned something exothermic today!
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    For when the physicists keep kicking you out of the antimatter lab because you're a chemist.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    And of course, if you wanna get ridiculous, this is only the beginning.

    The example character the Powerlisting Wiki uses for Molecule Manipulation is the Molecule Man..

    But as Owen himself said, even at the beginning when he was at his weakest he was more accurately manipulating atoms because he wasn't just rearranging molecules in relation to each other, he was completely altering their structures. He went with "Molecule Man" because it alliterated. But as his powers grew, not only did he area he could affect and what he could effect grow(originally he could only affect non-living matter and needed a focus to use it. Later he realized he could affect anything and his scope was near limitless with or without his wand.) bu the scale of the particles he could manipulate became... Smaller.

    Now, most of what has been covered here is technically atomic manipulation, breaking gases in the atmosphere up and using their atoms to make new molecules to arrange into solid structures.

    But when you're able to manipulate protons, neutrons, and electrons and rearrange those structures... That's when you become a god-damned alchemist. Lead into gold is the most trivial of what would could do, because you'd be able to break atoms apart and smoosh them together to make whatever elements you wanted.

    Once you scale down small enough, you're not so much manipulating matter and energy anymore so much as you're deciding what reality is.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Squire Doodad View Post
    So it boils down to "is there anything solid you can make out of carbon and stuff"
    Fun fact! The vast majority of plant biomass comes from the air.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Science fact: One of the strictest definitions of organic is "composed primarily of molecules that contain bonds between hydrogen and carbon."

    So anything organic can theoretically be made if you have enough carbon and hydrogen and the ability to manipulate atoms or molecules.

    99% of the human body is composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. The remaining 1% is mostly potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.

    When you lose weight, most of that mass is breathed out as gas rather than sweated out or excrete as solid or liquid waste.

    While you wouldn't be able to make it completely out of air, you'd need to get some other materials elsewhere, with molecular manipulation ability, or stronger mass manipulation abilities, you could just... Make a person. Mostly out of ambient environmental matter.

    (though with subatomic manipulation all bets ae off.)
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by Rater202 View Post
    Science fact: One of the strictest definitions of organic is "composed primarily of molecules that contain bonds between hydrogen and carbon."

    So anything organic can theoretically be made if you have enough carbon and hydrogen and the ability to manipulate atoms or molecules.

    99% of the human body is composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. The remaining 1% is mostly potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.

    When you lose weight, most of that mass is breathed out as gas rather than sweated out or excrete as solid or liquid waste.

    While you wouldn't be able to make it completely out of air, you'd need to get some other materials elsewhere, with molecular manipulation ability, or stronger mass manipulation abilities, you could just... Make a person. Mostly out of ambient environmental matter.

    (though with subatomic manipulation all bets ae off.)
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    Actually, you'd at least be manipulating the sub-atomic particles involved in bonding. Quadrillions of them.

    Unless you're carefully balancing this with E=mc^2 to rewarm the air, the loss of entropy and pressure would turn the air you're manipulating so cold that your created person would die. (But if you overdo it, you cook them.)

    Then again... I guess you'd need to pull in carbon atoms (CO2) from such a wide radius, you'd be picking and choosing your building blocks from as much as a mile or more away. So that at least diminishes the localized polar vortex. But combined with the computational power required, I'd think you'd need to be a demigod at least. (^_~)

    Edit 2: My inner nerd came out, and my wild guess was WAY off. A 70-kilo person would "only" require every carbon atom in an 75-meter-wide hemisphere. Or for context an entire football field, 5 stories high.

    Edit 3: Today, that is (414 ppm CO2). 70 years ago it would have required a wider area (312 ppm CO2).




    Edit: Belatedly adding a reply
    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    Fun fact! The vast majority of plant biomass comes from the air.
    Never thought about it, but quite logical. H atoms (H2O) may be numerous, but they're tiny little things compared to CNO (CO2, N2, O2). Trace elements like P (for ATP) and metal ions are needed, but a quick google shows P at only 0.2% of dry weight and metals should be much lower.

    The weight of H in amino acids ranges from 6-10%. Cellulose, a little above 6%.
    Last edited by arimareiji; 2021-05-16 at 10:40 PM.
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    You're applying a bit too much physic to the theoretical applications of a power that makes physics its bitch.

    It's safe to assume that if you can do something like this at all with superpowers, that you have powers that compensate for the fat that doing this is either going to freeze you or blow your ass up.

    Beyond that... I mean, the example character the wiki gives for this ability is the Molecule Man.

    To quote the man himself.
    I like stuff. I like making it and having it. I like alliteration too. "Molecule Man"! I mean, technically I worked with atoms, but... "Atom Man"? Ugh. No zing. No pizzazz. Even atoms seem big and clunky to me now. I should be... Proton Man. Or Quark Man. Superstring Man. Information Man. Editing and ordering the base information of reality. Owen Reece, the Narrative Man. Heh.
    We're talking some bull**** tier powers here.

    Honestly, just making a person out of ambient elements is a pretty mild example of what this kind of ability is capable of, which I think illustrates just how isnane it is pretty well.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rater202 View Post
    You're applying a bit too much physic to the theoretical applications of a power that makes physics its bitch.

    It's safe to assume that if you can do something like this at all with superpowers, that you have powers that compensate for the fat that doing this is either going to freeze you or blow your ass up.

    Beyond that... I mean, the example character the wiki gives for this ability is the Molecule Man.

    To quote the man himself.

    We're talking some bull**** tier powers here.

    Honestly, just making a person out of ambient elements is a pretty mild example of what this kind of ability is capable of, which I think illustrates just how isnane it is pretty well.
    That, and a heaping dose of the MST3K mantra. (^_~)

    I'm sure someone has done it; I should try to find a series that takes superpowers way too seriously and shows someone trying to save the city and reducing it to a giant mud pit filled with very angry residents.
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    If one is happy to ignore physics other than as window dressing, not a bad look at this sort of power is in Heinlein's novel "The Day After Tomorrow" (they don't actually turn air into much - not dense enough, but they have basically the full range of elemental transmutations plus a range if side effects).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    Fun fact! The vast majority of plant biomass comes from the air.
    The numbers I found seemed a little wonky.
    They say a big tree uses about 40 cubic meters of air to make .01 cubic meters of sugar each day.
    Dont get me wrong, this is amazing.
    But good luck securing 100 feet of land with two gallons of sugar.

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    Why would a person want to use this power to make a person? We already have reliable and enjoyable methods for person creation, which has resulted in people being widely available in many locations. If you wanted a person for something, synthesizing a pile of $100 bills makes a lot more sense.

    Clearly the smart play is to synthesize yourself a t-rex. If you find it difficult to rustle up enough carbon, go buy some charcoal and light a fire.
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    Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman, 1906.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    arimareiji's Avatar

    Join Date
    May 2017

    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Quote Originally Posted by warty goblin View Post
    Why would a person want to use this power to make a person? We already have reliable and enjoyable methods for person creation, which has resulted in people being widely available in many locations. If you wanted a person for something, synthesizing a pile of $100 bills makes a lot more sense.

    (^_~)b
    "Just a Sec Mate" avatar courtesy of Gengy. I'm often somewhere between it, and this gif. (^_~)
    Founding (and so far, only) member of the Greyview Appreciation Society
    "Only certainty in life: When icy jaws of death come, you will not have had enough treats. Nod. Get treat."

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    California
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    The funny thing is... The ability to "Create life! Create a new person out of nothing!" should be considered a superpower. If you were just, I dunno, a disembodied intelligence used to looking at stars and normal (e.g. dead) planets, you'd be like "Ha, ha, no, matter can't spontaneously organize itself into creating a new functional, mobile intelligence! That's some crazy fantasy story, my friend!"

    We're just so used to it that we don't realize it's a superpower any more. If people really got the ability to fly, we'd be like "Flying superpowers!" for two days and then just regard it like walking. "Let me fly over to the store, I need a loaf of bread" "Can you pick up some milk and coffee too?" "Ugh"

  30. - Top - End - #30
    Titan in the Playground
    Join Date
    May 2007
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    Tail of the Bellcurve
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    Default Re: Turning Air Into Solids

    Given how much importance pretty much every culture and mythology gives to sex, motherhood, fatherhood and children, I'm not sure I really buy that familiarity with the creation of life has bred boredom.

    Speaking entirely for my own experience, I grew up around various reproducing farm animals. Seeing the birth of a lamb and those first moments between mother and child, or the minescule, titanic struggle of a chick remains a powerful experience, regardless of how many times I was lucky enough to witness it. It's the elemental, foundational stuff of life, and the most magical thing on the planet. If modern culture has forgotten this, it's if anything due to a lack of exposure and the general lack of profundity of the present day.
    Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
    When they shot him down on the highway,
    Down like a dog on the highway,
    And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.


    Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman, 1906.

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