I'm developing a magic system that is supposed to be pretty close to real science.

I have a spell "convert element" described as follows:

Elements are converted by adding or subtracting protons. The simplest form of elemental conversion is to drop from one element to the next lower element by number. Refer to the standard the periodic table of elements: for example from He to H, or N to C by simply getting rid of one proton from the source element. The "dumped" proton would essentially be a Hydrogen ion right? Hydrogen will be formed or consumed as a byproduct of ANY elemental conversion.

So the question: How unstable would these H be? Are they likely to suddenly explode or would that only happen if close enough to an open flame?

Or is this whole thing a completely screwy idea?

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    $\begingroup$ What happens to the electron? You might also be interested in the idea of dumping 2 protons and 2 neutrons all in one big step. A ball of 2 protons and 2 neutrons is an ionized helium atom, and is called "alpha radiation." It actually occurs in real life chemistry. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ Also, how much energy are you putting into this system. There are a lot of cases where it's rather expensive to pull a proton out due to nuclear binding energy. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ Also, welcome to WorldBuilding! $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ put the hydrogen in another atom, it will save you some magic mana (energy) and free you from the problem of storing the hydrogen. But beware radioactive isotopes, proper isotopes combination you can find out on survivability of testing elf's(captives) or here . (there are also maps of decays for isotopes) Also do not forget that electron+proton -> neutron, and those bastards are very very useful in transmutations(especially for creating stable elements), and it costs just 0.779 MeV (magical electron volts) per neutron. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ If you need lots of energy to do the chemistry then you can use the conversion of mass into energy (E=MCC) to loose some mass (electronics, protons, neutrons) and gain some energy. If there really is Hydrogen kicking around in an oxygen rich environment (like earth) you could add a bit of energy and have it burn off into water/steam. You get a nice little flash of light and vapour cloud for theatrical effect. $\endgroup$
    – TafT
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 8:23

5 Answers 5


It powers the magic.

The simplest answer for converting to lower on the scale would be to say that the extra particles are destroyed to provide energy for making the conversion work.

If it's a chain reaction, each atom can provide energy to fission the next few atoms over, with the magic providing the kickstart and guiding the process. Depending how you want magic to work, that could gracefully handle unexpected elements (downconvert or ignore them, depending on atomic number) or provide occasional hazardous events when an unexpected element is present.

If you need technobabble, you could call the conversion something like "paradoxical causality", where magic shoves the energy left after conversion back through time to start the conversion, thereby preserving conservation of energy (with a minor blip in the interim).

If you wanted, you could have your process vent excess as gas. Hydrogen would be more dramatic (because firey explosions), but helium might be better (because it's safer and still gives a physical marker for where magic occurred). MAybe the basic version does one specific gas, but advanced versions can generate any arbitrary gasses?

If your magic works this way, converting the other direction probably involves ripping apart local materials and glomming them onto existing atoms. That probably means you either need to provide raw material or that you get a stiff breeze (and possibly lightnings) as local air is ripped apart and new air rushes in.

  • $\begingroup$ nice! I will add this to the spell. $\endgroup$
    – ken
    Commented Feb 23, 2017 at 17:02

Building on Bleh's excellent answer but flipping it around a little, what if...

The magic's role in this was two fold.

First it temporarily nullified the idea of matter. Every element within the focus of the spell would suddenly (and without cataclysmic energy transfer) decompose into its component subatomic particles and a free-floating form of the binding energies which used to hold them together. This would create a floating ball of non-elemental soup made of unattached protons, neutrons, electrons and energy; all swirling around each other, momentarily free from the organized patterns which we call elements.

Then from that soup, the magic would extract enough of each type of subatomic particles to build the desired quantity of the element which the caster desired.

While maintaining the first aspect of the spell for all of the left over particles, the caster would now release the selected particles back into the normal universe. There, in obedience to the laws of physics, they would instantly arrange themselves into atoms of the desired element. If that arrangement required or released any energy, the magic would harmlessly draws it from or pours it into the non-elemental soup.

This is where the spell gets tricky. The desired element has been created, but the caster is now holding a ball of potential matter and it is taking all of his concentration to keep it from re-entering real space to catastrophic, potentially nuclear effect.

To safely defuse the situation, after each successful casting of the spell, the caster must extract additional elements until all of the left over pieces and stray energies are gone. Think of it as the worst molecular chemistry test that you have ever had to take, and your life is forfeit if you fail. If the caster looses control of the spell before the non-elemental zone is empty, boom!

If he fails and is very lucky, the contents and energies will happen to match a whole number of hydrogen atoms. This unlikely outcome leaves the caster surrounded by one of the most volatile gases in nature (Think Hindenburg). Alternatively, the numbers don't quite work out for an all hydrogen solution, so fusion will be needed to resolve the left overs into something real. (Think Hiroshima, only bigger).

If this is the simplest application of the magical discipline of elemental conversion, I now understand why our real world is better off without magic. I can finally give up on becoming a wizard, without any regret for what might have been.

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    $\begingroup$ "until all of the left over pieces" - actually, "most" will be usually enough. You can afford a bit of radiation here and there, especially if you can target it up in the air or into a lead block. Also, Hindenburg probably wasn't really hydrogen's fault. At least, there are other good hypotesis. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ great comments Henry. I have some portal spells that will help with this as I can push the "leftovers" into "the beyond" $\endgroup$
    – ken
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 17:00

A proton decays in about $6 \times 10^{39}$ years.

The maximum upper limit on proton lifetime (if unstable), is calculated at $6 \times 10^{39}$ years, a bound applicable to SUSY models[.]


But your missing some things, like the electron. In that case, you're better off taking away a hydrogen atom by itself.

Even then we have some problems.

He  -   H     = T(ritium)
2 e-    1 e-    1 e-
2 p+    1 p+    1 p+
2 n0    0 n0    2 n0.

Yes, that works, but you don't really get the intended product. This gets more problematic, when we get to like silicon and aluminum.

Si   -   H     =Al-28
14e-    1 e-    13e-
14p+    1 p+    13p+
15n0    0 n0    15n0.

Aluminum-28 doesn't exist.

So, you would have to be able to take away different elements for it to work.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks bleh, good point about manipulating whole atoms rather than just protons. I was thinking about adding side effects for ionization and isotopes. I'm a little unclear why I need to worry about proton decay time though - maybe I'm missing something. could you elaborate on the relevance? $\endgroup$
    – ken
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ oh nevermind - I get it now, after referring to the link provided by MolbOrg regarding isotope stabilities $\endgroup$
    – ken
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 17:13

Let's take a simple example: you take a 12 grams diamond or 12 grams of graphite, and do your magic.

Diamond (or graphite) is made of pure carbon, and 12 grams is exactly 1 mole of Carbon atoms.

You are adding then 1 mole of protons, thus 6.022 x 10^23 protons which incidentally changes each Carbon nucleus to a Nitrogen nucles. You may think that you have vaporized your diamond (or graphite), but you are forgetting something: you are lacking 6.022 x 10^23 electrons, which is again a mole of electron!

This results in a localized charge of 96485 Coulomb, or 26 Ah, which is going to give a pretty good discharge: assuming the excess charge will be neutralized in 1 millisecond it gives 96 million Amps plus a decent EMP pulse...


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    $\begingroup$ Which is exactly how you cast a lightning spell, surely. $\endgroup$
    – Carmi
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ That's an expensive spell. 12 grams of diamond is the Hope diamond (9g) plus 15 1-caret diamond rings. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor I think he meant to use graphite, not too expensive. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ I will edit the answer to have also the "cheap" flavor ;) $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 7:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for these comment L.Dutch - I think this discharge will be a fun by-product $\endgroup$
    – ken
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 17:06

Thanks to all commenters for the assistance. Here are my combined notes for how the spell will work. Once I actually publish the game, I will add a link below, in case anyone wants to try it out.

Convert element notes

There are several approaches to elemental conversion, but all require a common body of knowledge which is encapsulated in this spell. Therefore each method is a sub-spell, but all are learned at once in a bundle with a combined total difficulty level of 30. The casting difficulties and magic points costs will vary (TBD) The approaches are: Proton Binding/Isotope, Hydrogen Binding, Alpha Decay, Beta Decay, Dematerialize Ionize is also learned in this bundle, although it isn’t actually elemental conversion per se.

Proton Binding - Remove Proton The simplest form of elemental conversion is to drop from one element to the next lower element by number. (refer to the standard the periodic table of elements) (For example from He to H). This can be accomplished by simply getting rid of one proton from the source element. Highly explosive ionized Hydrogen isotopes will be formed as a byproduct of this type of conversion. If you don’t want an explosion, you can dump the extra protons to the beyond using “Banish Object”. (requires an open Portal)

Proton Binding - Add Proton The opposite process can be used to add a proton and go up a number on the periodic table. This only works if you happen to have a lot of extra protons handy. (perhaps you previously stored some in the beyond?) Adding or removing protons from an atomic nucleus is very energy intensive A side effect of the proton binding method is that the target element will actually be an isotope because its neutron count will not match its proton count. Isotopes may be radioactive and therefore, repeat or extended exposure can cause burns and or disease. Isotopes can also be created directly, without elemental conversion, by adding or subtracting neutrons to a target. In the case of removing neutrons, the free neutron byproducts are themselves an ionizing radiation hazard.

Hydrogen Binding is similar to Proton Binding except that instead of only moving protons, you also move neutrons and electrons. This takes marginally more energy, but results in a slightly more stable byproduct of plain old hydrogen. It is flammable, but it won’t immediately explode, unless you are standing near an open flame. Also, hydrogen atoms can be attained by regular chemical processes or by Arrange Atoms.

Alpha Decay is similar to hydrogen binding, but is actually Helium Binding. The advantage to this technique is that it takes advantage of a natural lowering of stability, so that an element can be converted to an atomic number Lower by 2 elements, at a greatly reduced Magic Point cost. The byproduct is Helium, which is stable and not flammable. This method can not be used for Increasing atomic number.

Beta Decay is the conversion between protons and neutrons. Therefore you can either increase or decrease in atomic number, but the target element will be an ionized isotope. This is only slightly less costly in terms of MP than Proton Binding

Dematerialize is accomplished by banishing the entire source matter, then bringing back only the correct particles to produce exactly the desired element. No undesired byproducts are produced. If you are meticulous recordkeeper, you can keep track of remaining materials in storage in the beyond for future use.

Ionize Ions are created by adding or removing electrons. Ionization greatly affects an atom's likelihood of bonding chemically with neighboring molecules. Thus an Ionization spell may result in a wide variety of unintended changes in state, solubility, corrosion, metalization, etc., often times resulting in objects turning to powder or gas.

Practical Tips for Convert Element To practice, use readily available elements. A great practice case is N to C as both are very common, and it will be easy to see if it worked as it will convert from a gas to a dark powdery substance. You will be dumping one proton in seven. Remember, you will need to do this on millions of molecules to make a measurable change.

  • $\begingroup$ You may want to consider what happens if you apply these to molecules (e.g. water). $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 1:30

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