Fullmetal Alchemist vs. True Transmutation
By: Meighan A

You can read a lovely post about transmutation by Lindsay R. Regardless, I will begin explaining about Fullmetal Alchemist and then compare and contrast it with real transmutation. So, it would behoove you to read her post even though I will explain it for the comparison and contrasting.

Fullmetal Alchemist is an amazing manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The world of Fullmetal Alchemist is styled after the European industrial revolution. Set in a fictional universe in which alchemy is one of the most advanced scientific techniques known to man, the story follows the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who want to restore their bodies after a disastrous failed attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy.

They researched Human Transmutation, a forbidden art in which one attempts to create or modify a human being. However, this attempt failed, ultimately resulting in the loss of Edward's left leg and Alphonse's entire body. In a desperate effort to save his brother, Edward sacrificed his right arm to affix Alphonse's soul to a suit of armor. Some days later, an alchemist named Roy Mustang visited the Elric brothers, and he told Edward to become a member of the State Military of the country to find a way to recover their bodies. After that, Edward's left leg and right arm were replaced with automail, a type of advanced porosthetic limb, created for him by his close family friends Winry Rockbell and her grandmother Pinako.

In Fullmetal Alchemist the alchemists use 'transmutation circles' written either in the dirt, with chalk, pencil, or blood. This allows for a flow of energy to work the reaction. Alchemists will 'clap' their hands together and then touch the transmutation circle to activate it.

In Fullmetal Alchemist series, the ancient metaphysical science/mystical art of manipulating and altering matter by using natural energy is known as "Transmutation" and its sequence is usually described as:
  • (1) Comprehension - Understanding the inherent structure and properties of the atomic or molecular makeup of a particular material to be transmuted, including the flow and balance of potential and kinetic energy within.
  • (2) Deconstruction - Using energy to break down the physical structure of the identified material into a more malleable state so as to be easily reshaped into a new form.
  • (3) Reconstruction - Continuing the flow of energy so as to reform the material into a new shape.

The mystical practice of alchemy to create objects out of raw matter or turn one object into another is widely believed to be capable of anything - indeed alchemy is often viewed as magical or miraculous by those unfamiliar with the craft - but it is a science and as such is subject to certain laws and limitations, all of which fall under the concept of Equivalent Exchange: "In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed."

Vivian H: It surprises me that the concept of Equivalent Exchange in Full Metal Alchemist are based on true principles in Chemistry such as the Law of Conservation of Mass. I especially like the way you explained how Roy Mustang is able to create fire with his gloves similar to the way we strike matches or lighters, there is comforting in the fact that the anime series we watch are not complete rubbish! It seems in Chemistry class we are at the stage of Comprehension, and I think it would be quite entertaining if I could see the processes of Deconstruction and Reconstruction sometime in the future. I am assuming that the Law of Natural Providence holds true even in the anime, from the way you explained how Full Metal transmutation even prevents Edward from having the ablilty to create gold out of ordinary objects, how interesting!

In standard practice, Equivalent Exchange is separated into two parts:
The Law of Conservation of Mass which states that energy and matter can neither be created from nothing nor destroyed to the point of elemental nonexistence. In other words, to create an object weighing one kilogram, at least one kilogram of material is necessary and destroying an object weighing one kilogram would reduce it to a set of parts, the sum of which would weigh one kilogram.
The Law of Natural Providence which states that an object or material made of a particular substance or element can only be transmuted into another object with the same basic makeup and properties of that initial material. In other words, an object or material made mostly of water can only be transmuted into another object with the attributes of water.

Adam K: first of all, I saw full metal alchemist and almost cried with joy, knowing someone also knew of the adventures of Edward and Alphonse. I watched the anime so my response may be different than one who read the manga. It is strange how the anime, a fictional tale(unless you watched the movie) and the real world actually coincide. Theoretically, the transmutation of the anime could be possible, obviously not with circles, hand clapping, and philosophers stones.hydrogen and oxygen can make water and the other way around, but it is hard and takes alot of expensive toys. However irreversible reactions such as burning, breaking, and destroying is something that fuels my interest, would it be possible to bring a broken chair back to its true form?, in the anime, yes, in the real world, very very unlikely, but hey you never know.

In real life, transmutation differs from the transmutation in Fullmetal Alchemist. First off, like Adam pointed out, clapping and drawing transmutation circles will not allow you to alter elements or particles to create another. Instead real transmutation occurs either by bombarding a nucleus of an atom with particles or by radioactive decay.

Rutherford was able to bombard nitrogen gas with alpha particles to produce an unstable isotope of flourine. This isotope quickly decomposed to a stable isotope of oxygen and a proton. Rutherford or anyone else couldn't and can't make a stick into a wooden spear without carving it, or turn their automail into a blade like Edward does in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Edward and any other alchemist use objects with the desired chemical properties to form something with similar traits. We cannot pull metal spears out of a metal floor. But we can use nuclear reactors and nuclear accelerators, however, to artificially create transuranium elements that cannot occur in nature.

Fullmetal Alchemist is fictional and their transmutation and alchemic abilities are just as fictional, but the idea of transmutation and alchemy are based on the actual concepts. Even in Fullmetal Alchemist they cannot make gold, as alchemists in our world have accepted. In Fullmetal Alchemist transmutation is based of the basic idea of altering one element of set of elements into something else with similar makeup. Alchemists can't make things out of other objects unless they are similar. Roy Mustang can make a flame by snapping his fingers to start the reaction, but there has to be enough oxygen in the air and it cannot be raining. He is able to - by manipulate the gasses in the air and wearing his gloves with the transmutation circles on them - create a reaction similar to that of striking a match or a lighter.