I wanted to have characters that can control energy and matter, so Dr Manhattan came to mind as a great example of a character that does that.

Information on him says that he has complete awareness of and control over atomic and subatomic particles, due to him being an intrinsic field representation of a collection of the electromagnetic, and strong and weak nuclear forces.

I am unsure if he breaks matter down to quarks and electrons and the binding energy or just energy but I am using him as an example just to paint a picture of what kind of power I mean, so my question is:

How much energy would it take theoretically to split all the atoms in a human body down to free quarks and electrons and how much to bind them all back together?

just the energy needed for that amount of atoms not the tricky part of getting everything in the right place or taking them somewhere.

  • $\begingroup$ Please refer this question to the SciFi Stack Exchange, it does not fit the world building scope defined in the help center. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 2:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If the only objection is that the subject is a character from someone else's worldbuilding project but the question isn't intrinsically tied to that world, then there's little reason to close the question. The OP could trivially edit the question to talk about a fictional character of their own creation ("Nurse Bronx") who has suspiciously similar powers, and reasonably ask about the energy required for those powers. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


In the case of 'reduce a human body to energy', presumably by turning it into gamma ray photons by one means or another, the answer is fairly straightforward... the average mass of, say, a North American is 80.7kg, and via $E=mc^2$ you get about 7.3 exajoules (about 1.7 gigatonnes TNT equivalent, slightly larger than the ecombined yield of the world's nuclear arsenals).

Your request, "free quarks and electrons" is somewhat harder because colour confinement prevents free quarks from being a thing at the sort of temperatures you'd expect to find in most parts of the universe these days. Very, very loosely speaking... when you try and separate them, the amount of energy you pump into the system is sufficient to create new quark-antiquark pairs which hook up with the quarks you were trying to pull apart, forming new hadrons.

You can avoid this issue by forming a quark-gluon plasma. You can do this by heating regular matter up to 2x1012K, at which point protons and neutrons will fall apart into their constituent quarks. Apparently an average human body (whatever one of those is) contains about 4.1x1028 nucleons, and the quark-gluon plasma temperature is equivalent to giving each of those about 140MeV of energy. This works out as about 920 petajoules, or a mere 220 megatonnes equivalent.

Given how hot the resulting plasma is, you'll find it will cool down extremely rapidly by releasing a lot of gamma rays and congealing back into regular plasma made of baryons, which will then expand rapidly (on account of being Quite Hot).

The end result, in either case, will resemble a large nuclear fireball, and devastation of the sort you'd expect to see from an asteroid impact or major volcanic eruption (such as the eruption of Thera for total energy conversion, or Krakatoa for the quark-gluon plasma).

Clearly, if you want to evaporate someone into nothingness, you'd best find a different mechanism (though I can't argue against its effectiveness on most targets).

  • $\begingroup$ great answer, thank you $\endgroup$
    – user69935
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 14:45

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