17

In the episode, The Aftermath the Metalbending Police Force has been investigating Future Industries factories for collusion and production of weapons by Hiroshi Sato with the Equalists.

It is later discovered that Hiroshi Sato was producing weapons in a secret factory beneath his home and Korra, Tenzin and Lin investigate that factory in a search with the Metalbending Police Forces. This search reveals the latest secret weapon of the Equalists, the Mecha Tanks. The mecha tanks, which are controlled by Equalists from the inside, attacked Korra and the other intruders. The mechs were easily able to knock Korra, Tenzin, Lin, and the other police officers unconscious during the battle. Korra, Tenzin, and Lin, however, were rescued by Bolin and Mako while the Equalists were busy loading the police officers into their trucks. Sato reveals the tanks are made of pure platinum and unable to be affected by metalbending arts.

The Equalist devices appear very similar to the steampunk-style Big Daddy and Handyman from the Bioshock video game series. In real life, platinum is a very malleable metal, almost as soft as gold, and would be useless as armor (although the lack of firearms might render this less of an issue). In addition, platinum is very expensive, furthering it's usage in armor being problematic at best.

So how do we explain:

  • Why can't metal benders bend platinum? It is a metal, after all. It should be well within their ability to affect.
  • Is it the purity of the metal that makes it resistant, or the rarity or lack of exposure to platinum that makes it impossible to bend?
  • Is there something about metalbending that requires impurities in metals to make them able to be bent? If so, what impurities and in what quantities make a metal able to be affected by Earthbending?

I understand any answers that are generated will be speculation, so what I am seeking is intelligent speculation that treats this as a serious question that expands the discourse on the Avatar world.

The Aftermath: The Legend of Korra. Nickelodeon. May 19, 2012. No. 7, Book 1: Air

  • Can they bend copper or aluminum, which are non-magnetic like platinum? – Izkata May 20 '12 at 2:37
  • It is not made clear, but I would think they should be able to bend copper or aluminum, because if they couldn't they would have coated their mechs with copper or aluminum instead since both are FAR more available at least on our Earth. It is another question to be debated... – Thaddeus Howze May 20 '12 at 3:07
  • In the last episode of season 3 we see Korra dealing with chains made out of platinum, but in a different way. Because what happens when enough pressure is applied and you don't bend? You break. – Thomas Jacobs May 20 '16 at 14:10
22

Expanding on Balto's answer, a brief primer on the origins of metalbending might be in order. While Toph was locked in a box, Guru Pathik was remarking to Aang:

Even the separation of the four elements is an illusion [...] metal is just a part of Earth that has been purified and refined.

As she struck the inside of her metal cage attempting to see as best as she can, her seismic sense allowed her to see into the metal and reveal its impurities. Given the apparent level of technology at that point, bulk cast metals were likely of terrible quality, so they still had lots of "Earthiness".

Toph sees the impurities in the metal

Toph was also shown to bend some very impure metal (a meteorite fragment) with apparent ease into a variety of shapes (like the Nickelodeon logo...). Conversely, when trapped in a wooden cage with Katara, didn't use their gold jewelry, which even given the terrible manufacturing techniques could still be quite pure, to try to break out.

Platinum, like gold, is a noble metal; it is highly unreactive and can be found in nature in it's native state. The base metals, like iron, copper, and tin, need to be smelted from ore, which reduces a mineral into a metal. So owing to its chemical nature, purifying platinum is far easier and the amount of "earth" left afterwards could be orders of magnitude lower than with steel.

Additionally, platinum is about twice as strong as gold and its Mohs hardness is about 1.5 higher. The US Mint actually strikes it's platinum coins three times versus two for gold to obtain a sharp image.

In any event, the sheer amount of platinum pictured in that one scene is likely more than has ever been mined on (our) Earth, which fits in a 6.3 × 6.3 × 6.3 meter cube. That places the world of Avatar somewhere far, far away.

6

I would think that the only reason earthbenders bend metal is because of the carbon impurities inside the metal as shown in the episode of the last airbender when Toph used her seismic sense to see the microscopic pieces of soil inside the metal. Platinum is one of the purest metals known so without any carbon impurities it'd be impossible to bend that kind of metal. I think that pure metals aren't totally immune to earthbending knowing that all metals has some percentage of impurities but it would depend on how skilled the bender is to be able to bend purer metals than iron.

  • But the most common element in soil is oxygen (490g per kg), followed by silicon (310g per kg), followed by aluminum (72g per kg), followed by iron (26g per kg). By comparison, there's only 25g of carbon per kg of soil. That's only slightly more than calcium (24g per kg). If you're talking about the earth's crust in general, then carbon becomes even less significant: 0.48g per kg of earth. If they really just bend carbon, then you may as well call them coal benders. – Lèse majesté Aug 2 '13 at 5:14
  • 2
    Earthbenders bend oxides, waterbenders bend H2O, airbenders bend O2, firebenders manipulate rapid oxidation... – Nick T Dec 27 '13 at 19:45
2

They can only bend the tiny impurities inside metal which are earth. Hiroshi Sato created the machines out of metal with absolutely no earth in them.

  • "Earth" is not a homogenous substance. A typical sample of soil generally contains 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% gases, and 5% organic matter. Many of the minerals in the typical soil sample are in fact metals; common ones include: iron, aluminum, magnesium, gallium, zinc, silver, etc., but other rare earth metals like gold and platinum are also found in soil in trace amounts. – Lèse majesté Aug 2 '13 at 5:06
2

Yes, metalbenders can bend platinum but none has ever done so. Platinum is very pure and thus it would take an extremely skilled and focused metalbender, even more skilled than Toph.

For example Sozin was an extremely skilled firebender, so he could take the heat from lava, and transfer it to smoke, combustion man could create powerful explosions. Amon could manipulate the blood in the human body and alter the capability, a person has to bend.

The point is that with a highly skilled bender new levels of bending can discovered and explored.

0

hmm platinum is a noble metal, not a base, am i correct? so in that case a person could theorize that because noble metal is in fact more pure than a base, with less impurities that by the nature of their abilities, that they can not bend noble metals. if you look at the world of avatar it is a pretty sure thing to say, that their abilities would have been for their protection from the elements. water benders in the north and south, air benders up high, and fire and earth below. the avatar is in between all of these.

  • Thank you for your answer, and welcome to the SF & Fantasy Stack Exchange. Your answer seems to be rehashing the point made in the accepted answer. Perhaps you could flesh it out a bit, add some references and maybe add some insights that would make your answer a useful addition. Oh, and please watch your spelling/capitalisation. – SQB Aug 25 '14 at 9:06
0

The only way an earth bender bends metal is because he focuses on the earthly impurities in it and bends them, and therefore, bends the metal with it. Platinum has a very small quantity of impurities so it is difficult, yet possible to bend, if there is anyone skilled enough.

  • Have we seen someone platinum-bend? I don't remember so, but I haven't finished LOK. If you have such an example, I'd recommend to edit it in, to make for a better answer :) – Jenayah Mar 1 at 7:19
-1

I've been really curious about this myself as I work at a jewelry company and found that part of the episode a bit interesting as in practical use, I haven't seen a product anywhere that is even actually made out of pure platinum. The most pure forms I've seen tend to be in jewelry and such and for our company, we sell items that are 95% platinum. Depending on where you shop the alloy mix is slightly different, but the platinum is usually mixed with a related metal like iridium or palladium. I guess in that sense it would be "non-reactive" or "pure" as platinum jewelry with alloys like these are considered to be hypoallergenic so they don't interact with the body at all or really cause any kind of trouble to the wearers. (There are also some alloy blends that use cobalt though which are not hypoallergenic though, FYI.)

For comparison's sake, while gold itself is non-reactive when it's pure, it's not practical to wear 24kt gold in jewelry because it's too soft, so gold jewelry is always an alloy mix for hardening that basically makes it allergy prone. So I guess if we look at it that way we can kind of understand how maybe the suits would be considered a "pure metal" that can't be bent and also maybe why the suits weren't made from gold since you'd have to add impurities to it to make it hard.

So I guess for a real world scientific comparison between our world and the world of Avatar would be how possibly allergy-prone a metal is. If it's a hypoallergenic alloy mixture, it can't be bent.

Another interesting thing I learned about platinum the other day is the wear of the metal. Platinum tends to move around more but all still be bonded together whereas gold in jewelry tends to erode over time as you use it, but again, in jewelry you're not dealing with pure gold. So for use in a battle suit, it's probably useful to have a metal that is basically bendy but doesn't erode. Although that still makes the suit pretty soft though because even platinum jewelry tends to ding more easily, so I kind of wonder how come an earth bender wouldn't just throw a rock at it or something which would knock the machine out of working condition easily and break it.

  • I am not sure how this addresses the question. – James Jenkins May 30 '14 at 19:10
  • @JamesJenkins I'm not sure either, but I have to admit that it is interesting information. – SQB Aug 25 '14 at 9:11

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