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A thoroughly scientific analysis of Ant-Man’s antics

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The movie Ant-Man (2015) is the 12th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the same movie franchise that has produced such classics as Iron Man, Avengers, Captain America, and the recent hits such as Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity Wars. The movie had a budget of $142 million while the box office made $519.3 million.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has always held the stance that true magic does not exist. As Thor (Chris Hemsworth) stated in his first movie, Thor, “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.”

Clearly, the MCU has taken a stance that anything in their movies can be theoretically explained through science. It is for this reason that the science in Marvel should be examined so closely. Some movies get away with phony science by claiming it is too advanced or mystic to understand. Examples of this are the bifrost from the Thor franchise, the vibranium technology utilized in Black Panther, and the magic appearing in Dr. Strange. Other movies are simple enough to make sense, such as technology used in Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Spider-Man: Homecoming. However, the movie Ant-Man does not pass this test. Its science is simple enough to understand, and here the flaws glare wider than any other movie. The science displayed in Ant-Man is undoubtedly cool, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is inconsistent, unrealistic, and impossible.

The movie itself provides a brief explanation as to what their new technology accomplishes. The villain, Darren Cross, describes it as working like this: reduce the distance between molecules while increasing density and strength. Now, let’s analyze this. A single hydrogen atom is about 99.9999999999996% empty space, so there is plenty of space within atoms to be reduced. However, the movie specifically says, “between atoms.” The space between nuclei of 2 bonded atoms is approximately 1 Å (ångström), about 1×10-10 meters. This is also the approximate size of the electron cloud in a single atom. Thus, shrinking the distance between atoms would have the approximate same effect as decreasing size of the atom themselves. Taking this into consideration, Ant-Man would be able to shrink himself to microscopic levels. However, Ant-Man would retain his same mass and weight while at this size.* This causes problems when applied to the movie. The weight of Ant-Man is highly inconsistent within the movie.

In the first scene where the main character, Scott Lang, uses the Ant-Man suit, he has a wild adventure being tossed around the miniature world. He falls out of a bathtub and cracks a tile below. He falls onto a car and tents the roof. Clearly, he still retains his former weight, as he should. However, in the exact same scene Scott bounces harmlessly off of a pipe and lands on a moving record, leaving it intact. Ant-Man’s weight throughout a two-minute tangent is inconsistent. But it isn’t just Ant-Man himself that refuses to adhere to his own science. Later in the movie, the mentor character and inventor of Ant-Man, Hank Pym, has to escape from a secure room. To do this, he reveals that his keychain, shaped like a tank, is actually a real tank. He grows the tank to normal size and escapes by literally bursting through the walls. Keep in mind that the mass of the shrunken or grown object should remain constant. Thus, Pym would not have been able to even lift this tank, let alone carry it around in his pocket.

The science of Ant-Man is also unrealistic. The aforementioned scientist, Hank Pym, also invented a device to connect the minds of thousands of ants to his personal neurons. He said himself, “I can see and hear everything.” Receiving information from thousands of ants at the exact same time would clutter his mind. Imagine constantly seeing in a kaleidoscope. Perhaps Pym had trained his mind through years of constant work, but Scott Lang himself learns to control ants in a matter of days, perhaps weeks. The bottom line is that this ant-controlling science is simply unrealistic.

Finally, the Ant-Man science is impossible. We have assumed that, if the space between atoms is reduced, we could actually shrink to microscopic levels. However, this should be impossible, because the very thing keeping atoms the sizes they are and distances between them the way they are is repulsion. The negatively charged elections on the outskirts of the nucleus repel against electrons from a neighboring atom. Thus, the energy required to breach this repulsion barrier for such a large amount of atoms would be absolutely gargantuan. It would even be plausible to assume that the energy required to shrink these atoms would be so massive that a black hole would form and swallow the planet. That being said, let’s switch gears.

Toward the end of the movie, Scott deactivates his regulator, causing him to shrink subatomically. He enters the quantum realm, shrinking for eternity (before he finds a way out). Technically it would be plausible that deactivating such a regulator could cause one to keep shrinking, but it must stop at some point. Scott would eventually be so small that he could no longer live, and would probably shrink to the size of a string. However, none of that would be possible anyway, because he is shrinking the size between atoms. His atoms are the same size, just closer together. Thus, he could not even reach that level of smallness. He could theoretically be small enough to be between the subatomic particles that make up an atom, but the aforementioned nuclear forces holding the atom at its current size would tear Ant-Man apart. That wouldn’t be fun, now would it?

The science of Ant-Man is clearly unrealistic, inconsistent, and impossible. That being said, the movie is still enjoyable. Sure, the science is wacko, and you can tell who the villain is from the first time you see him, but the overall movie is very fun and very enjoyable. 3 out of 5 stars for the science.

*Supposedly, his atoms would also “increase strength,” whatever that means.

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A thoroughly scientific analysis of Ant-Man’s antics