Is a shrink ray possible

So there seem like there are two factors at play with a shrink ray. Volume and density. You make something physically smaller, but you also have to make it lighter. Since the vast majority of matter is empty space, couldn’t a ray be invented that decreased the electron orbitals and reduced the physical size for the same number of atoms?

As far as density, since the Higgs boson has mostly been discovered is it possible to manipulate that particles interaction with atoms to reduce the mass of an object? So shrink an object by a factor of 1000 by decreasing the empty space in atoms, then decrease the mass by a factor of 1000 by manipulating higgs boson interactions.

My question is, is using these two factoids going to make a shrink ray possible in theory (if not in practice anytime soon)?

Then again, I’m assuming if you decreases the volume all the chemical bonds will fall apart or screw up.

There is no empty space between atoms. It’s all filled up by fields. Those fields can admittedly be compressed, but only with difficulty.

And the vast majority (over 99%) of the mass of matter we’re familiar with has nothing to do with the Higgs mechanism, so you won’t be able to change the mass that way. You’d need to change the binding energy of the strong nuclear force, and even if you could do that somehow (no way is known or suspected), it would almost certainly have unpleasant side effects.

In 1987, author Isaac Asimov wrote Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, in which something similar is accomplished by reducing Planck’s constant.

In his novelisation of the original movie, he discussed ways that a shrink way could, or could not, work.
method 1) push the atoms closer together. Wouldn’t work, because such an object would retain its original mass in a tiny space.
method 2) remove some atoms. Wouldn’t work, because ifyou reducve a man’s brain to mouse size, you reduce his intelligence to mouse size too.

The solution - shrink the atoms, which also reduces their mass too.

No, no, and no.

Also, the space inside an atom is not empty. As Chronos notes, it is full of fields. And not only is it difficult to compress those fields, there are fundamental limits to just how much you can compress them.

As far as “Higgs boson has mostly been discovered”, evidence of a particle that is in the range of energies at which the Higgs boson is predicted to exist has been established to a high level of statistical probability (in excess of five standard deviations from the mean). This was determined by smashing protons together billions of times and measuring the motions of the resulting cacophony of particles. This is a far, far cry from being able to produce a Higgs boson at will, and even further from being able to affect the behavior of fundamental forces.


And this might change – or negate entirely – the shrunken person’s ability to interact with his environment. His hands might not properly interact with, say, a grain of sand (which he now sees as basketball sized.) He might not be able to touch it: he hand might sink through it…or be repelled from it at several diameters’ distance. There’s simply no way of knowing what the new rules are.

The shrunken person might very well be totally blind, his retinas unable to absorb photons whose wavelengths seem to be 100 times too long. Meanwhile, if he has a flashlight, what kind of photons will it emit, and will matter around him reflect it properly?

Asimov dealt with a number of these questions in an essay regarding the movie, and, essentially, concluded that the whole matter is absolutely impossible.

(Meanwhile, what the hell happened to the submarine?)

Sure you can make atoms smaller. Just apply a force. They compress. Takes a lot of force to compress them, of course, but for example at the center of the Sun they’d be noticeably smaller.

But what you probably mean is change the atom so that it is stably smaller, meaning you don’t need to continue applying an external force. This obviously involves some magic, but the least amount of magic you could apply would probably be to make the electrons heavier. The size of orbitals is inversely proportional to the mass of the orbiting body, so you could roughly speaking halve the size of an atom by doubling the mass of the electrons. That wouldn’t change the mass of the atom by any very noticeably amount, because almost all of an atom’s mass is in the nucleus. Obviously the density of the atom goes up by quite a bit, though.

This isn’t entirely hypothetical: you can construct “atoms” made of nuclei plus orbiting negative muons, which have the same charge as electrons but something like 200x the mass. The resulting “atom” is much, much smaller. It also decays rapidly, since muons aren’t stable.

Exactly. Its a fantasy. That’s why it is called Fantastic voyage, not Scientifically Feasible Voyage.

Must you shit on all my poorly informed fantasies?

I need to hear more about this.

One way to apply this force is with gravity, but you have to push really hard. For example, the density at the center of the Earth is almost twice that of iron at atmospheric pressure. Of course the density can be even higher in a star. For example a white dwarf can have nearly the mass of the sun within a star the size of the Earth, but there are no atoms anymore. If you add some additional mass, the electron field can no longer resist the pressure and the electrons will collapse into the atomic nuclei, creating nuclear matter, resulting in a neutron star with even higher density. More mass still and everything will collapse into a black hole.

I understand that. None of those processes are equivalent to shrinking an atom. They strip away the electrons and may eventually change the protons to neutrons but at that point they are no longer atoms in any conventional sense.

Muons, being heavier, do orbit closer than electrons. But that’s not shrinking an atom, it’s creating a different thing, a muonium atom.

From what I understand no force can shrink a standard atom in size. I may be wrong about that, but you haven’t given any examples yet.

My example above depends on whether or not you consider a crystal of iron to be made of atoms. A less extreme case than the center of the Earth is to put more modest pressure on any solid material free of voids, take a silicon crystal for example. Squeeze on it and it will get smaller, not very much, but measurable. The electron pressure is high, but finite.

I consider everything on earth to be *made *of atoms. A crystal is an arrangement of atoms. An arrangement can certainly shrink; however the individual atoms can not. Compressing the voids between atoms is not at all equivalent to compressing atoms themselves.

As Chronos mentioned above, there are no voids. That empty space is filled with electron fields. The size of a hydrogen atom is not the size of a proton, it is orders of magnitude larger. When hydrogen atoms collide, it is their electron clouds that strike each other. When you stand on the floor, you are standing on electron clouds, not contacting the nuclei of the atoms. As you walk, the atoms of the floor get a tiny bit smaller when you step on them.

This is true only if you use a different definition for “atoms” than everyone else is using.

Nobody disputes that fields can be compressed, but I dispute that fields are part of the atom proper.

My understanding is that QM defines a lowest energy orbital for an electron and that orbital cannot be changed. Any definition of a shrunken atom would require that the lowest orbital goes closer to the nucleus. Are you saying that is possible? If so, under what circumstances? If not, how can you claim that an atom is compressible?

Then what is part of “the atom proper”? If you take away the fields, then there’s nothing left. There really isn’t any meaningful definition for “the size of an atom” other than “how close the fields will let them get to each other”.

If you take a chunk of any material, and squish it so that it takes up a smaller volume, the electrons are, on average, closer to the nuclei. It couldn’t be any other way.

OK, I get that, I was just trying to simplify the situation to narrow in exactly on what we’re trying to define.

So the distance from the nucleus of the first electron orbital (and I assume therefore all the others) is a constantly changing one? Is there no minimal distance at all? Is there a maximum distance? How does this effect the energy levels and the energy of the photons given off? I’m having trouble trying to understand what effects this variable distance has. (And worse, why it would not have effects, if not.)

Well, if you compress an atom too much, you’ll get inverse beta decay, with a proton and electron combining into a neutron and a neutrino. But that’s far, far beyond what we can do in a lab. Other than that, no, there’s no limit to how close you can get the electrons.

This will, as you expect, alter the spectrum, but then, just about everything alters the spectrum.

Sure, a shrink ray is possible. But if you want to make things bigger again with some sort of rebigulator? That’s a concept so ridiculous it makes me want to laugh out loud and chortle.