Full Metal Alchemist- The Gate
Alchemy is the mystical science that actually gave rise to modern chemistry as we know it, but that is a story for another time. Today I will be diving into scientific basics of the scientific magic known as alchemy in the hit anime/manga Full Metal Alchemist. I will also be examining what real world laws of chemistry seeing The Gate allows an alchemist to break.
To begin with, there are three basic steps to performing a transmutation in Full Metal Alchemist. (AKA- using alchemy):
1- Comprehension- what are you doing and what are you doing it with
2- Deconstruction- breaking down the materials needed
3- Reconstruction- putting everything back together
On top of this there are two basic laws that rule every transmutation alchemists perform:
1- Law of conservation of mass– matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed to the point of nonexistence
2- Law of natural providence- you can only make something that has the same properties of the initial material
These laws are often referred to as equivalent exchange and fit the theme of the show that you can’t get something from nothing, which is the same in the real world, unless you want to start talking about some theoretical quantum level physics and chemistry that is beyond even me. Either way the first law also exists in the real world and helps to form the bedrock of modern chemistry.
Law of conservation of matter– matter cannot be created or destroyed but it can be changed into different forms
Law of conservation of energy– energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can be changed into different forms
You will see that the real world laws are almost exactly the same as the ones from Full Metal Alchemist except that we separate the laws of matter and energy in real world chemistry. Before I get into how the alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist works, let me explain a few things. I am going to stick to how the substances are changed and not where the energy comes from because of spoilers and more importantly, it’s scientific magic that screws with the laws of thermodynamics which are beyond the scope of this post.
How Alchemy Works
When the alchemists in FMA perform a transmutation, they first have to realize what substances they have to work with. This is of particular importance because the standard alchemist can not make atoms from nothing, so the atoms for anything they create have to come from the alchemist and or the surrounding environment. Once the alchemist has the material for the transmutation, the existing substances are broken down to a molecular level, briefly reducing the substance to its component atoms. These atoms are then put back together into a new substance. A good example of this is how Roy Mustang breaks down the water vapor and carbon dioxide in the air to make the fuel for his signature flame alchemy. This also allows me to see if the Iron Blood Alchemist can really use the iron in his own blood for his transmutations.
The human body only contains about 4 grams of iron, so there is no way for the Iron Blood Alchemist to perform the transmutation seen above with just the iron in his blood. You would be lucky to make a musket ball with 4 grams and pulling all of that iron out of your blood would kill you. This is due to iron’s being a key component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in our blood. Even with the alchemy boosting red stone, which is made from 10,000 people, that only adds up to 4kg of iron, which can make a big sword but is not enough to cover him in guns.
He could of course pull iron from the earth’s crust, which is seen in the image above. However, the earth’s crust is about 5% iron so the only place he would find enough iron to pull off a transmutation like the one seen above would be at an iron mine, or in a city where he could pull iron from the surrounding buildings and the pipes underneath the streets. Thus, whether you are using the rules set forth in FMA or real word science, I have to call the Iron Blood Alchemist busted.
Seeing the Gate
The question then is what about Edward Elric, and the other alchemists who have seen the gate? Yes, they get a nice bonus in that they can skip the usual preparations for alchemy in FMA, but they also seem to be able to pull off transmutations that other alchemists cannot. While the obvious answer would be sparkly alchemist magic, there is actually some science behind their ability to pull off otherwise impossible transmutations. Essentially seeing the gate allows Edward and the other alchemists who have seen it to break the Law of Conservation of Matter.
Now you might be wondering why I would say they can break one of the laws underpinning modern chemistry, but as it turns out, there is a way to break the law of conservation of matter. Part of Einstein’s theory of relativity includes his famous equation E=MC^2.
E= energy- joules
M= mass- kg
C= speed of light- 3×10^8 m/s
For the less scientifically inclined what this means is that if we break matter apart, energy is created, which is what happens in a nuclear reactor in a process called nuclear fission. Modern science and technology has yet to create matter using just energy, but theoretically it should be possible.
What this means for Edward and company is that they can create any matter they need for any potential transmutation that they want to attempt. I know that there is the question of where the energy would come from, but let’s chalk that up to magic, because any attempt at doing the math would end up with an extremely large number for even the smallest of transmutations.
I know it’s a little on the shorter side, but I hope you enjoyed this explanation of how seeing the gate in Full Metal Alchemist enhances a person’s alchemy. Just in case you are wondering i have also broken down the science behind Roy Mustang’s flame alchemy. If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below.