I am an amateur at worldbuilding and I am already building a sci-fi themed world with fantasy elements. In my world there will be different kinds of new elements to the periodic table and some fantastic environments and creatures.

My question is: since my universe starts plenty of years before and after our actual time, how can I "defy" physics and include new elements to the periodic table? I don't want it to be hard science, I don't need a deep level of detail, just some theoretical science to push the existence of unknown periodic elements.

Tip: My "universe" is not and neither near Earth.


You don't actually have to care much about hard-core physics.

If your sci-fi world is set in another universe entirely (Star Wars and the Force), you needn't even bother about following the periodic table or conventional physics. After all, the Force isn't even something the Jedi (in their Universe) can explain completely.

It's okay to create imaginary material with the materials we currently have in the periodic table. Avatar (the movie) is set in the future in this universe, and the filmmakers decided to introduce Unobtainium, a material based on sci-fi physics (see http://james-camerons-avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Unobtanium).

If your universe is not anywhere near Earth, than that just makes things easier for you. We think we've got the laws of the universe figured out, but who knows, really, what will happen under extreme conditions not found anywhere near Earth, especially when we do not have the equipment to reproduce them? Example: Albert Einstein said that black holes were ridiculous when they were first proposed. It sounded ridiculous; a mass so great that not even light could escape it, a mass so great that it would crush itself. My point is that you do not even need to look too far from our current laws of physics: Just bend them to the extreme, and say whatever you want. An actual example closer to home would be the fact that the Sun's corona is millions of Kelvin hotter than its surface (Coronal heating problem).

Scientists still haven't come up with a theory to explain the effect (as far as I know).

Screw it all, there are even things in our oceans that have our scientists' jaws on the floor (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2081787/Hydrothermal-vents-Lost-world-unknown-species-Antarctic-sea-bed.html) : " They were exploring off the coast of Antarctica and found colonies of marine life including crabs, an octopus and starfish totally new to science, living in the murky depths.

The reason their existence is remarkable is that they were found on top of undersea volcanoes called hydrothermal vents, which pump out plumes of black smoke causing temperatures to rise to 380C - hot enough to melt lead. "

In a word: Don't worry too much about having to follow mainstream physics. Science Fiction is about what could happen, not what will happen. If you're writing Science Fantasy (even more whacky than Science Fiction), then you have even less to worry about.

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    The difference between "Science Fantasy", "soft Science Fiction", and "Hard Science Fiction" all comes down to the author's application of known science. And even with the first, knowing the rules of YOUR world is the difference between building a world or making it up as you go along. – DougM Mar 22 '14 at 15:19
  • I think one of the main reasons startrek got its success is that its science isn't outside the bounds of possibility, but also that things are generally only ever alluded to. (in two words the "Heisenberg compensator" explained a huge amount about the workings of a transporter, without ever getting bogged down in tech talk) - Outside of very geeky chemists, people don't generally talk about elements of the periodic table, so why should a character? when did you last break out a description of a carbon atom in day to day life? why force that onto a character – Michael B Jun 2 '15 at 9:03
  • My point simply being that you should have a decent understanding of how the physics of your world works, but you should then try very hard to not mention it. Instead sprinkle in a few words about side effects of xyz princple... (ideally in a show don't tell way) – Michael B Jun 2 '15 at 9:07

One of the big mistakes I've seen in some people's writing is that they focus on wanting to show the reader that "Hey, I've thought about these things and they are really important!" when they aren't.

If you're story is going to be about physicists or chemists or other scientists dealing with the particular periodic table elements, then I can understand having them but if you're wanting to use them as parts of the molecule that is used to support teleportation, you probably don't need them.

The key for world building, in my humble opinion, is focusing from the people and story out. Sometimes we have a desire to try and nail everything down, don't. Sometimes we want to answer all questions, but that can weigh down a story or limit where you could go in the future with it.

The short answer to your question is you write the story and see where it is essential that you introduce them, and then you look at what do you need to describe and what you don't. For example, having a scientist in a lab trying to figure out where Impossiblium came from both introduces an elements, and allows the reader to see things from the scientist's perspective as she tries to figure out the mystery. But you don't need to get to the electron charge level, etc. unless it helps drive the story.

That's my 2 cents.

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This is one of those instances where understanding the history of things matters. If you're building a science-fantasy world with the equivalent of modern chemistry, have some fictional elements with distinct properties, and have any concern at all for the periodic table, you really only have four choices:

  1. Make the new element something strange and apart, so it doesn't have to fit into the categorization at all.

    What's the atomic weight of Victorium? We have no idea.

  2. Make the new "element" really an isotope of an existing element.

    Thanks to Victorum, which is a strange isotope of Aluminium, we can build radiation-proof starships

  3. Pick a spot on the periodic table and slap the new element there. Anything above 54 with a name you don't recognize is fair game to be replaced, especially if you're going to substitute "magic" for "radiation."

    Good Witch Curie discovered Victorum's mana-like properties in a lab.

  4. Abandon the periodic table. If there were elements that simply did not fit into the framework when it was being devised, it would never have been adopted.

    Alchemists even claimed once that elements could be arrange neatly by their number of protons. As if Victorium didn't even exist!

The same practice is true for any aspect of world-building in which you deviate from the modern day. In a draft awhile back I realized that I couldn't use the world "commute" to describe a daily journey to and from work without some historic installation of public transportation, since said usage derives from the "commuted" fair offered those who bought train-tickets in bulk.

You don't need go to overboard of course, but a significant part of high fantasy or non-terrestrial sci fi is very much the world-buliding, and it's worth spending some time thinking about how to get it right.

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A hint where you could actually place the new elements: You could put them in the island of stability. If some people expect half-lifes of millions of years, it's not much of a stretch to also put some stable element there (although a very long half-life may be good enough; after all, uranium is instable, and yet we even have quite a bit of naturally occurring uranium).

If you want to be more future-proof, you can also put your elements in the second island of stability (see near the end of the Wikipedia article).

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Sci-fi readers and fictional world fans are often very concerned how stuff works. Adding new element is popular choice to explain certain unusual phenomena like FTL travel speeds, teleports, energy shields and weapons. However there is very little space to develop your new element. Theoretically, there should not be anything before hydrogen, but for example Mass Effect put Element Zero there. Zero because of zero atomic number. This element, called eezo in the universe,

when subjected to an electrical current, releases dark energy which can be manipulated into a mass effect field, raising or lowering the mass of all objects within that field. (viaME Wiki)

This can easily bend Newtonian and Einsteinian physics to allow said phenomena. Stargate uses Naquadah in similar manner, but does not explain where in periodic table would be Naquadah found (maybe it does and I don't remember it, I suggest confirmation).

As was said before, if you want to use some new element, place it somewhere in the island of stability. Or you can place it before Hydrogen (I would not suggest that solution since ME already did that).

Generally I can say that best way to bend physics to your will and make it believable is to find some real scientific theory, that would be working for you and use it. If you have basic understanding of physics and what keep us from doing things you would like people in your universe to do, you can identify the obstacles and design your new element so it renders these obstacles non existent or irrelevant.

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  • +1 for "fans are often very concerned". Anyone who's studied high-school chemistry should know that you can't just invent elements. Iron Man 2 annoyed me a lot. Elements aren't magical. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 3 '15 at 18:28

It depends how believable you want your story to be to someone who knows a little about science.

There are many things in science where it is very difficult to say what is possible or what might exist elsewhere in the universe. If you said that there is another planet out there somewhere with creatures who have blue skin and breath ammonia, who is to say that this is not possible? We have a lot to learn yet about the biology of creatures here on Earth, to say what the biology of creatures on another planet might be like is pure speculation.

But there are other things, at least a few, where we can pretty conclusively say that we have categorized all possibilities. The list of elements is one of these. Elements are defined by their atomic number. Elements with all possible atomic numbers up to 116 (last I heard) have been discovered in nature or synthesized in the laboratory. So if you're going to propose a new element, it would have to have an atomic number higher than 116. Anything less than that and it's not a "new element", it's a known element. But that's a problem as heavier elements do not occur in nature and are unstable. I recall reading years ago a theory that there might be heavier elements that are stable, I don't know enough physics to discuss the plausibility of such a theory, but you might be able to make something of that.

So if you told me, "I have discovered a new element that comes between Copper and Zinc on the periodic table" ... that's just not possible. Copper has atomic number 29 and Zinc is 30, and atomic numbers must be integers, and there just are no integers between 29 and 30.

You could, I suppose, write a story in which the hero discovers that the periodic table is completely wrong, that that's not how elements work at all. How plausible you can make that depends on your creativity and skill as a writer.

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