Wed
May 23 2012 2:00pm
The Science of Allomancy in Mistborn: Copper

Mistborn art by Chris McGrath

Last week we began our exploration of the science of allomancy when I outlined a hypothesis of the scientific principles which account for the enhanced senses of an allomancer who is burning Tin.

An important aspect of that hypothesis was the fact that the “burning” of metal by an allomancer gives off a distinct pulse which can be detected by other allomancers. This side-effect makes it rather inconvenient for those that would like to use their powers in secret.

Fortunately there is a way to mask these allomantic pulses from prying eyes, namely burning copper. But since we know so little of how allomancy really works, can science provide a hypothesis on how copper prevents its detection? Of course it can.

 

Copperclouds and Superconductors

Aside from masking their own allomantic pulses, Kelsier tells Vin that “copper’s influence occurs in a bubble around you. This cloud — called a coppercloud — hides anyone inside of it...”

While we aren’t told the exact nature of allomantic pulses, let alone what would be required to mask them, certain information in the text reveals that the pulses have wave-like properties. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that copperclouds somehow interfere with these allomantic waves to make them untraceable.

One possible clue as to how this interference might work is found in copper’s superconductive properties. In 1987, J. Georg Bednorz and K. Alexander Müler won the Nobel Prize in Physics1 for their discovery that certain copper-oxide compounds behaved as high-temperature superconductors2. (Where “high-temperature” in this context means around 30K). 

Many properties of superconductors are probably well known by readers of this site, however one property that isn’t quite as flashy as levitating magnets is that when sound waves pass through superconductors, those waves change velocity3.

Since we lack any empirical data on allomantic pulse signatures, we can’t be sure if the pulses are acoustic or electromagnetic in nature. However I believe it is safe to theorize that regardless of which class of waves allomantic pulses belong to, their signatures would probably be distorted by a superconductor.  

 

A Multi-Use Metal

Copper has so many uses outside of allomancy that it’s perfectly natural that the metal would have more than one allomantic effect. Aside from the masking of allomantic pulses, copper can also be used to protect the user from other allomancers who employ emotional allomancy. 

Interestingly, this effect only extends to the allomancer actually burning copper, not to those who are within the coppercloud. This suggests the possibility that copper may have two distinct allomantic metabolic pathways.

 

Beware the Copper

Assuming then that we have a viable hypothesis for how copper masks allomantic pulses, let’s turn our attention to the mechanism responsible for inhibiting the effects of emotional allomancy.

Since I haven’t yet revealed my preliminary research on how emotional allomancy works, you might wonder how I could be so bold as to put forth a hypothesis on how copper is able to neutralize its effects. While I can’t yet reveal the full body of my research on emotional allomancy, I will go as far as to say that there is strong evidence that emotional allomancy uses symbiotic pathogens to achieve its effects.

Evidence for this is found in the fact that copper has extremely potent antimicrobial properties. In fact, a recent review 4 on the anti-microbial characteristics of copper found that multidrug-resistant Staph bacteria (MRSA) was completely eliminated after just an hour and a half exposure to copper surfaces. By comparison, the same bacteria can live unscathed for over thirty days on stainless steel, which oddly enough is the most common material used for healthcare and food-prep surfaces. (Take note of this fact if you’re ever put in charge of furnishing a new hospital, or remodeling a kitchen).

The fact that copper is such a potent eliminator of pathogens, suggests the possibility that the burning of copper by an allomancer causes the aforementioned symbiotic pathogens in the allomancer’s system to be destroyed, thus preventing them from being affected by emotional allomancy. (More details on my research concerning these pathogens and their use in emotional allomancy will be revealed in a future installment.)

 

Obligatory Do Not Eat Warning

That’s all the allomantic investigation we have time for this week. As we mentioned previously regarding Tin, ingesting excess copper may be harmful or fatal if you are not an allomancer. In fact, despite the fact that your body needs copper for a variety of functions, some neurological and systemic illnesses can be caused by excess copper.

Next week I’ll discuss some of the startling evidence that I alluded to regarding emotional allomancy. So until next time, keep those copperclouds running.

 

Other Installment in the Science of Allomancy

 

References

  1. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1987/
  2. Bednorz and Müller, “Possible highTc Superconductivity in the Ba−La−Cu−O System.”
  3. Yoshizawa et al., “Sound Velocity Change at Superconducting Transition in κ-(BEDT-TTF)2Cu(NCS)2.”
  4. Harold T. Michels “Anti-Microbial Characteristics of Copper”

Dr. Lee Falin is the host of the  Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips podcast and the author of the “Science Fictioned” series, in which he takes scientific research articles and turns them into sci-fi and fantasy short stories. You can follow him on twitter at @qdteinstein.

2 comments
wcarter4
1. wcarter4
Copper--it's allomancy's gateway drug...
wcarter4
2. Captain Starlight
I knew about brass having those antibacterial properties, and it's a zinc/copper alloy. Bronze, IIRC, is a tin/copper alloy with greater tensile and compressive strength than either. Would bronze burn as itself, or as a dissociated mix of copper and tin?

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