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I am working on a sci-fi story in which a character has control over matter on the atomic level (think Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen). In thinking up potential tragedies for this character I thought, "Would splitting all the atoms in the human body simultaneously result in any significant explosion?"

I threw 200 pounds into a calculator site and got out 8.1534e+18 joules or 1.9487e+3 megatons of TNT.

Is this use of e=mc^2 valid, assuming the atom splitting could be done through means other than the typical chain reaction that takes place in warheads?

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You know, on SO we don't tend to down vote without an explanation. – Logarr Feb 11 '14 at 4:02
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's valid in the sense that it does tell you the rest energy of a 200-pound person, but it does not tell you how much energy you could get by splitting all those atoms. As a matter of fact, most of the atoms in a human body are carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen; splitting these atoms takes energy, it doesn't produce it. Your character would need to tap into a very large energy source to do that.

The only way to possibly obtain the full $8.1\times 10^{18}\text{ J}$ from a 200-pound human body in anything resembling an explosion would be by annihilating it with a corresponding body of antimatter in a very controlled manner.

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I plan on there being literally zero explanation for how the telekinesis works, but it will probably help if I don't take too much liberty with physics. Thanks for the answer. – Logarr Feb 11 '14 at 3:57
I guess you could go with fusion, since it's possible to obtain energy by fusing small nuclei including carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Large stars do exactly that. It normally requires high pressure and temperature (many millions of degrees and millions of times atmospheric pressure), but if a superpower is involved it'd be plausible that it could happen without those conditions. – David Z Feb 11 '14 at 4:01
I would imagine that it's not much more plausible than causing fission, even with super power rules. I'll settle for something smaller scale like boiling the water in their cells or something. – Logarr Feb 11 '14 at 4:19

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