# [Enders Game] Split molecules and cause a chain reaction

1. Nov 10, 2015

### Brett Royale

during my reading of ender's game, there was a device that could split molecules and cause a chain reaction of destruction. this seems possible yet impossible to me. can such a weapon be created and if so what causes the reaction to be so destructive.

2. Nov 10, 2015

### Borg

Are you sure that it was molecules? Splitting molecules would be a chemical reaction that can only generate a certain amount of energy. However, nuclear fission generates much more energy.

3. Nov 10, 2015

### Brett Royale

ya at least that's what it said but the only thing that makes me think other wise it when the American gov. made the atom bomb it consisted of 2 key molecules to keep it stable but also go off at the impact time. in the book it talks about how instead of exploding it just rip's all molecules apart killing all that lives as species.

4. Nov 10, 2015

### Khashishi

It's just fiction, and it is pretty far-fetched. It takes energy to split molecules apart; so it can't chain react.

5. Nov 10, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

Actually it can chain react. It's called fire

6. Nov 10, 2015

### Khashishi

That's an exothermic reaction though. Various compounds are broken apart and then combined with oxygen. It takes energy to break the compounds apart, but reacting with oxygen gives off more energy. You can't universally break apart compounds without adding energy.

7. Nov 10, 2015

### Hornbein

Any explosive gives off energy from the splitting of molecules.

But the Ender's thing that splits ordinary molecules, that's SF.

8. Nov 11, 2015

### Khashishi

No, explosives give off energy by building new molecules (usually with oxygen). The breaking of molecules takes energy.

9. Nov 16, 2015

### Ryan_m_b

Staff Emeritus
There's no real science behind the weapon in Ender's Game. IIRC it works by inducing a nuclear chain reaction in non-fissionable material with the effect propagating along with the chain reaction. Nothing known can do that.

10. Nov 16, 2015

### DrStupid

Thermonuclear weapons work that way.

11. Nov 23, 2015

### Brett Royale

when i first made this post there was a missing thing that i didn't count in this, in the book it says that its doesn't rip molecules but instead tears all combined atoms and makes them singular causing own found energy and giving birth to the chain reaction. rephrasing is it possible to take combined atoms and spit them out mono by mono

12. Nov 23, 2015

### Hornbein

Like we've been telling you, it takes energy to split apart molecules. As far as anyone knows, there is no way around that.

13. Dec 9, 2015

### Dr Wu

This is probably going off-thread here, but having just finished reading Ender's Game, which I very much enjoyed, nonetheless, I do share the criticisms aired elsewhere about the tender age of its protagonist, and those of his companions. Yes, I did follow the author's heroically argued defence of it in the novel's introduction. Still, having once been a child myself (so I distantly recall) I remain unconvinced. It wasn't so much the language itself I found difficult to swallow; rather it was the adult concepts the language expressed that jarred. It got better as the book progressed and Ender grew older. Of course, he and his two siblings are meant to be viewed as extremely bright young children, child prodigies even. Fair enough, but I'm afraid it didn't quite come off the page for me. I've not seen the film version of the book, so I would be interested in knowing how the director dealt with the age issue, assuming, of course, he or she saw it as an "issue" in the first place. On the plus side - and it's a mega-big plus - I consider the novel's ending wonderful and surprising. A real masterstroke, in my opinion.

14. Dec 11, 2015

### Brett Royale

not sure i agree with you. with an open mind, the language and concepts were outstandingly perfect and gave an idea of real reality of what would happen to kids if this is what the world did. but not only did he hit that vital part, he showed what it's like in a soldier's mind and the sense of how they act in battle. telling them selves that they will not break and will survive. if you read the next books then you'll get more of them feel in the story. as for the movie, it was a bit... pale per say. they didn't exactly add the vital points made in the story.

15. Jan 11, 2016

### PAllen

Not for unstable molecules. Xenon trioxide may explode undisturbed, at room temperature, in a vacuum. There are more prosaic examples, but I have been warned not to mention 'achievable explosives' on these forums. I feel safe that xenon trioxide is unachievable to the non-professional.

16. Jan 11, 2016

### DrStupid

With $\Delta _f H_{XeO_3 } {\rm = 402 kJ} \cdot {\rm mol}^{{\rm - 1}}$ and $\Delta _f H_O {\rm = 249 kJ} \cdot {\rm mol}^{{\rm - 1}}$ the reaction

$XeO_3 \to Xe + 3O$

would be endothermic. I'm not aware of exothermic reactions without formation of new bonds. Thus I would agree with Khashishi.

17. Jan 11, 2016

### PAllen

The reaction is:

2 XeO3 → 2 Xe + 3 O2

which changes your oxygen number radically (eliminates it altogether, since is zero for diatomic oxygen, also zero for xenon) and is well known to be exothermic, and readily occur spontaneously around room temperature. You could argue that new bonds are formed, i.e. the splitting is still endothermic, but the association of the oxygen is then exothermic by a much larger amount. However, functionally, you have pure compound suddenly exploding on its own. There are many other such compounds. I would agree that if you break the reaction into smallest steps, you start endothermic, but the overall reaction is exothermic. However, I am not convinced that this reaction proceeds in those steps. I would guess that as two xenon trioxide molecules get close via kinetic vibration, reaction occurs essentially in one step - but I can't say I know that for sure.

Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
18. Jan 11, 2016

### DrStupid

And thats why the reaction gives off energy by building new molecules. The breaking of the original molecule takes energy. The number of steps doesn't matter.

19. Jan 11, 2016

### PAllen

Would you still argue that for xenon tetroxide:

XeO4 → Xe + 2 O2 ?

20. Jan 11, 2016

### DrStupid

Yes. With $\Delta _f H_{XeO_4 } {\rm = 643 kJ} \cdot {\rm mol}^{{\rm - 1}}$ the reaction

$XeO_4 \to Xe + 4O$

would be endothermic. The energy of the exothermic decomposition results from the formation of O2.

21. Jan 11, 2016

### PAllen

Except that the decomposition never produces monatomic oxygen, so your proposed endothermic reaction never occurs.

22. Jan 12, 2016

### DrStupid

And Earth is not a disc. Let's stop talking about obvious facts and return to the problem: Did you understand that the decomposition is exothermic because new molecules are formed?

23. Jan 19, 2016

### PWiz

Is the order of the reaction known? If the order is fractional, the reaction is likely to include free radicals. The order can also be used to point to the number of molecules involved in the rate determining step of the decomposition, and this, along with the structural information of the reactant and products, can be used to predict the reaction mechanism.

24. Aug 15, 2016

### AlgoJerViA

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There are some hints to what he tries to describe in the book, the Molecular Disruption Device are related to the Strong Force Field Dynamics that are used in interstellar travel. So in the book they have some way to manipulate the strong force, it looks like this is done in such a way that nuclear fission and fusion occurs extremely easy but this makes very unlikely that a clump of iron can be left since it would be blown into dust at ones. So this has some foundation in reality since if there was any way of manipulating the strong nuclear force and change the rate of nuclear fission and fusion and this would burn itself into iron fast. But way the field would propagate is harder to understand and especially where all the energy goes. The planet should explode into something that might be comparable to a super nova. However the energy might go into propagating the field...

Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017