Recently, scientists have began researching superatoms and supermolecules in depth. The premise is that existing, natural elements can be rearranged into clusters, in the lab, to exhibit properties they normal wouldn't - for example, "a siliconlike superconductor with the biodegradability of wood". Not only would these properties be unfeasible otherwise - but this substance has desirable engineering properties.

In a recent issue of Scientific American, this idea is listed as one of the "Ten Ideas That Will Change the World 2016" and is taken very seriously; this is not skepticism, this is a developing field.

What are the physical limits of this type of engineering?

Just how unnatural can your substance and its properties be if you explain it with this method?

Or, conversely, what are examples of the most extreme circumstances this can produce?

While I don't require a hard-science level of citation and calculation I would like actual scientific evidence. That evidence (or the lack thereof) can be cited, and thus this question is not limited to opinions.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Handwavium is used in so many ways that answering your question is impossible. If it's real, it's real, everything is possible. If you want to ask about normal superatoms, these are so far from handwavium that use of the term is unjustified. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Nov 18, 2016 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ Programmable matter has been discussed more than once here. Search for that term, and the name McCarthy. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz McCarthy describes a very different programmable matter - stuff like manipulation of quantum dots, films around the substance, metabolizing substances, etc. and much of it is "this would work when we discover how to use it". I am describing a non-speculative, lab tested method of giving substances properties. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot I'm not sure if this would fall under "normal superatoms" because the ones in these circumstances are engineered to act in certain ways. Still, your input would be very valuable as an answer - while a "no" isn't as exciting it still answers the question "could it happen" $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors If every question on Worldbuilding SE took into account "what we find tomorrow" not a single physics or chemistry answer on SE would look the same. Proof with the laws of nature we know is all I need for an answer, and that is something that can be done. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 20, 2016 at 13:37

1 Answer 1


Welcome To the Real World

You need some kind of "handwavium infused into the atmosphere" if you want this to work without problem. (think "mind control")


Money money money. Without currency, or some kind of resource that you can exchange for scientific equipment required to make handwavium


Boom! Handwavium is cheap to manufacture, but not without "lasting damage to ecosystems" and "causing mutations"


You may think your biodegradable technomumblejumble carbide superconductors are cool, but the FDA2000 thinks otherwise. The economy could crash, and the rich who want to stay rich will sure as hell bribe some politicians to stop you.


Handwavium is against insert definitely real religious deity here. The book says that handwavium is bad, and that it is ungodly. A few "scientific" discoveries by religious fanatics suddenly prove that handwavium causes rare deseases, and could harm your loved ones.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you explain how "handwavium infused into the atmosphere" would be necessary to justify chemistry? I'm not sure I understand $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:37
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any evidence that substances like these would "cause mutations" "damage ecosystems" "crash the economy" or "defy religious texts"? I appreciate the reply but I would like a bit of evidence $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra It's not about chemistry. Your biggest problem isn't the science. Your biggest problem is societies reaction to the science. $\endgroup$
    – 10 Replies
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't matter what the thing actually does. People make up all kinds of things for no reason at all. GMO's for example... They are super legit (excluding the whole legal bit with copyright and all that) and could help end starvation.... Yet for some reason they are said to cause cancer, and large groups of people seem to hate them. It won't take much for a high ranked person to think the scheme is fishy and just shut down production because of their assumption that it is bad $\endgroup$
    – 10 Replies
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is also worded confusingly because I expected the question to be restated in the body, but instead what you really wanted was in the title. I'll make it more consise, so the next guy like who can't quite read properly understands more what you are asking. $\endgroup$
    – 10 Replies
    Nov 18, 2016 at 1:57

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