I have seen where atoms can be positioned one at a time to make a picture or write something. Can that same method be used to transfer an atom or atoms at a time into a nanometer width proton beam?

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Or can a nuclear pellet worth of atoms be fired to intersect with a proton beam in between and timed with shock waves from the previous pellet like a machine gun? The detonations would be inside a blast shield shaped cup to direct the blast in one direction.

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    $\begingroup$ I have a hard time understanding how you relate being able to write something and detonating it to create propulsion. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Jan 22 '18 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ What does detonating one atom even mean? Atoms suffer radioactive decay reactions all the time; for example, in a one-liter bottle of drinking water about 500 tritium atoms will decay into helium every second. A nuclear detonation is produced by having very very very many uranium atoms undergo fission in a very short amount of time. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 22 '18 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ Are you suggesting that the nuclear reaction be used to POWER an engine, or are you suggesting that the nuclear reaction would provide the thrust? Because if you are accelerating particles to the speeds required for nuclear fusion, then I'm not sure how much net energy you can get out of that reaction. (I'm guessing fusion because you said "proton" beam and fission usually uses neutrons.) Then propulsion will require that the energy be used to accelerate a propellant. Maybe someone with a better grasp of nuclear physics can help give some numbers on expected energy levels. $\endgroup$ – Kyle A Jan 22 '18 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure what "proton beam" exactly is, but if we have the ability to precision-shoot atom's nuclei with individual particles, that would open a number of interesting possibilities. Shooting one atom with the stream of million particles would be an energy drain. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 22 '18 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ Let's take your question at face value and assume you're placing one atom at a time into a position that it will detonate (it doesn't matter how), and that you are either capturing the energy for later use or using the detonation directly for propulsion. In either case, and as an extension of @AlexP's comment, what are you expecting to gain from it? A single-atom detonation, one detonation at a time, wouldn't produce enough energy to move a penny across a desk. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 22 '18 at 20:18

You would need to place very many atoms in order to generate the necessary energy for propulsion, this would be less efficient than the fission by radioactive materials that is currently used.

The fission by Uranium causes a chain reaction in all atoms of that element, that's the way that so much energy is generated.


No, a single atom a time is not really that powerful.

The fission of a Uranium atom produces 3*10^(-11)J. To power a 100W light bulb for one second, you need ~3*10^12 (3 trillion) fission processes.

Propelling a space ship requires even more than that.

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    $\begingroup$ It is proven, then: A bunch of atoms will never be able to light a match :-D $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Jan 22 '18 at 20:57

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