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Many sci-fi stories depend upon a technology called miniaturization. Isaac Asimov’s classic Fantastic Voyage; his more scientifically rigourous sequel, Fantastic Voyage II; DC Comics featuring The Atom, Marvel Comics featuring Antman and The Wasp.

Is miniaturization real? Could it be real? What would be the results if it was real?

fantastic voyage

Scene from the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage. The medical ship, inside in a blood vessel, is under attack from antibodies!

Miniaturization in fiction

1940’s movie – Dr. Cyclops. People are reduced to less than a foot in size by the titular mad scientist, and are subjugated to his whims.

1957 movie – The Incredible Shrinking Man inspired a boom in science fiction films that made use of size-alteration.

1961 the Silver Age comic book character, the Atom, Dr. Ray Palmer, created by DC Comics.

1960’s Ant-Man is a Marvel Comics superhero.

1966 movie – Fantastic Voyage

1987 movie Innerspace

1989 movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

What would happen if we just compressed someone to a small size?

Neil Degrasse Tyson probably shouldn’t write any more comics 😉

Details: TBA

miniaturization comic Hamlet's Danish Density

By Clay Yount, Hamlet’s Danish, 12/9/2014


Physics: How would one try to do this?

There are no practical ways to actually do this. However, science fiction stories speculate on how this could be done. Interestingly, sustained thought and speculation on science fiction technologies has allowed scientists to develop real-world technologies.

A. Compression / increasing density

“Why are you so certain miniaturization is impossible?”

“If you reduce a man to the dimensions of a fly, then all the mass of a man would be crowded into the volume of a fly. You’d end up with a density of something like -” he paused to think – “a hundred and fifty thousand times that of platinum. ”

B. Removing atoms

From Fantastic Voyage II:

“But what if the mass were reduced in proportion?” – “Then you end up with one atom in the miniaturized man for every three million in the original. The miniaturized man would not only have the size of a fly but the brainpower of a fly as well. ”


C. Changing Planck’s constant

This is a major science-plot point in Isaac Asmimov’s book, Fantastic Voyage II (1988)

From Fantastic Voyage II

“And if the atoms are reduced, too?”

“If it is miniaturized atoms you are speaking of, then Planck’s constant, which is an absolutely fundamental quantity in our Universe, forbids it. Miniaturized atoms would be too small to fit into the graininess of the Universe. ”

“And if I told you that Planck’s constant was reduced as well, so that a miniaturized man would be encased in a field in which the graininess of the Universe was incredibly finer than it is under normal conditions?”

“Then I wouldn’t believe you. ”

“Without examining the matter? You would refuse to believe it as a result of preconceived convictions, as your colleagues refuse to believe you?”

And at this, Morrison was, for a moment, silent….

…Well over half an hour had passed before Morrison felt convinced that the objects he could see outside the ship were shrinking and were receding perceptibly toward their normal size.

Morrison said, “I am thinking of a paradox.”

“What’s that?” said Kalinin, yawning. She had obviously taken her own advice about the advisability of relaxing.

“The objects outside the ship seemed to grow larger as we shrink. Ought not the wavelengths of light outside the ship also grow larger, becoming longer in wavelength, as we shrink? Should we not see everything outside turn reddish, since there can scarcely be enough ultraviolet outside to expand and replace the shorter-wave visible light?”

Kalinin said, “If you could see the light waves outside, that would indeed be how they would appear to you. But you don’t. You see the light waves only after they’ve entered the ship and impinged upon your retina. And as they enter the ship, they come under the influence of the miniaturization field and automatically shrink in wavelength, so that you see those wavelengths inside the ship exactly as you would see them outside.”

“If they shrink in wavelength, they must gain energy.”

“Yes, if Planck’s constant were the same size inside the miniaturization field as it is outside. But Planck’s constant decreases inside the miniaturization field — that is the essence of miniaturization. The wavelengths, in shrinking, maintain their relationship to the shrunken Planck’s constant and do not gain energy. An analogous case is that of the atoms. They also shrink and yet the interrelationships among atoms and among the subatomic particles that make them up remain the same to us inside the ship as they would seem to us outside the ship.”

“But gravity changes. It becomes weaker in here.”

“The strong interaction and the electroweak interaction come under the umbrella of the quantum theory. They depend on Planck’s constant. As for gravitation?” Kalinin shrugged. “Despite two centuries of effort, gravitation has never been quantized. Frankly, I think the gravitational change with miniaturization is evidence enough that gravitation cannot be quanitzed, that it is fundamentally nonquantum in nature.”

“I can’t believe that,” said Morrison. “Two centuries of failure can merely mean we haven’t managed to get deep enough into the problem yet. Superstring theory nearly gave us out unified field at last.” (It relieved him to discuss the matter. Surely he couldn’t do so if his brain were heating in the least.)

“Nearly doesn’t count,” said Kalinin. “Still, Shapirov aagreed with you, I think. It was his notion that once we tied Planck’s constant to the speed of light, we would not only have the practical effect of miniaturizing and deminiaturizing in an essentially energy-free manner, but that we would have the theoretical effect of being able to work out the connection between quantum theory and relativity and finally have a good unified field theory. And probably a simpler one than we could have imagined possible, he sould say.”

“Maybe,” said Morrison. He didn’t know enough to comment beyond that.


D. Nanotechnology as a practical replacement for miniaturization of large objects

“…The ideas and concepts behind nanoscience and nanotechnology started with a talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom” by physicist Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) on December 29, 1959, long before the term nanotechnology was used. In his talk, Feynman described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate and control individual atoms and molecules. Over a decade later, in his explorations of ultraprecision machining, Professor Norio Taniguchi coined the term nanotechnology. It wasn’t until 1981, with the development of the scanning tunneling microscope that could “see” individual atoms, that modern nanotechnology began.”

Nano.gov What is nanotechnology?


Miniaturization: Technovelgy article

Entry in the SF Encyclopedia

Excerpt from Fantastic Voyage: II A Novel By Isaac Asimov, 1988


Learning Standards

Next Generation Science Standards: Science & Engineering Practices
● Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.
● Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.
● Ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables.
● Ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.
● Evaluate a question to determine if it is testable and relevant.
● Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the school laboratory, research facilities, or field (e.g., outdoor environment) with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on a model or theory.
● Ask and/or evaluate questions that challenge the premise(s) of an argument, the interpretation of a data set, or the suitability of the design

MA 2016 Science and technology

Appendix I Science and Engineering Practices Progression Matrix

Science and engineering practices include the skills necessary to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. It is necessary to teach these so students develop an understanding and facility with the practices in appropriate contexts. The Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) identifies eight essential science and engineering practices:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering).
2. Developing and using models.
3. Planning and carrying out investigations.
4. Analyzing and interpreting data.
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking.
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering).
7. Engaging in argument from evidence.
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

Scientific inquiry and engineering design are dynamic and complex processes. Each requires engaging in a range of science and engineering practices to analyze and understand the natural and designed world. They are not defined by a linear, step-by-step approach. While students may learn and engage in distinct practices through their education, they should have periodic opportunities at each grade level to experience the holistic and dynamic processes represented below and described in the subsequent two pages… http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/scitech/2016-04.pdf

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