Do the comics or the film specify if Ant-Man's suit works by:

  • Shrinking the volume of all of his atoms (including subatomic particles) proportionately - possibly shrinking their mass as well, or
  • Shrinking the space between the atoms while the atoms themselves retain the same size, or
  • Shrinking the space inside the atoms while the subatomic particles retain the same size, or
  • A combination of the above?

The first option departs most from the known laws of physics and also could prevent Ant Man interacting with atoms and particles of normal size (i.e., breathing, eating, seeing, etc.).

  • 1
    In the movie, I thought I remembered someone (Pym?) mentioning it was the space between the atoms... Not sure though. That couldn't be the only reason anyway, given the events leading up to the end of the movie. Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:20

1 Answer 1


The Cinematic Universe appears to be using a slightly different technique than the mainstream comics universe, so it depends which Ant-Man you're talking about.


In the comics, Hank Pym's Pym Particles work by interfacing with a parallel dimension (the Kosmos dimension) and shifting mass back and forth between the two dimensions. When an object shrinks here, it's extra mass is shunted off to Kosmos, and when it grows here, the extra mass is pull in from Kosmos.

Earth-199999 (MCU)

Fairly early on in Ant-Man, Hank explains that his Pym Particles work by "changing the distance between atoms" in the affected substance, basically your bullet point #2. Since there is no loss of mass, the object in question also becomes more dense as a result of the shrinking.

On a side-note, there's a bit of a problem with MCU explanation. According to the movie, it's possible for Pym Particles to shrink a subject down to the level where quantum effects become significantly meaningful. This would require getting down to around the size of a single atom, or possibly smaller, depending on how "quantum" you wanted to get. Obviously, it's impossible to move two separate atoms closer together than the size of one atom, as this would violate the Pauli exclusion principle. (When this kind of thing happens in the real world, e.g. due to extreme gravity, it's called "degenerate matter" and all kinds of major nuclear changes happen to the matter, and it no longer looks or acts like it's original form.)

It's likely that this is just your typical "close enough for the masses" movie physics, but it's also possible, based on some hints from Marvel about the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, that Pym Particles are more involved than even Hank knows about.

  • 1
    I don't think it's quite true that "any semblance of structure or identity is lost", this article talks about theoretical work implying structures made out of nucleons in a neutron star: "In the base of the crusts of neutron stars, the nuclei of atoms get crammed together so tightly that protons and neutrons arrange themselves in patterns akin to pasta shapes. Sometimes, nuclear pasta comes in rods like spaghetti, flat sheets like lasagna or spirals like fusilli."
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:38
  • 2
    What I meant was, the atoms of hydrogen/nitrogen/carbon/etc are lost and turn into proton/neutron soup, which may have it's own structure but none of the original atomic/molecular structure of the matter.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:40
  • 1
    Ah OK, I agree with that. Maybe one other option to explain the shrinking would be to say the fundamental constants of nature, like the fine structure constant which deals with the strength of the electromagnetic force along with the equivalent constants for the strong and weak nuclear forces, are being locally altered in the region of Ant-Man's body, changing the size of electron orbitals along with the size of protons and neutrons, without changing their mass (though wasn't the movie inconsistent on this, showing him riding an ant?)
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 16:45
  • My assumption is that this was what they had in mind: Pym somehow managed to change the lengths of molecular bonds so that bonded atoms had less "empty space" between their nucleii. Of course, that's already based physics that was obsolete decades ago, but at least it's vaguely sensible (for movie science)
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 17:14
  • Out of curiosity, what do you mean by "already based on physics that was obsolete decades ago"? I have seen it suggested that different areas of space could have settled into different vacuum states with different values of physical constants like the fine structure constant, though if I remember right they'd be separated by weird "topological defects" like domain walls. Not sure if there's actually a way to vary the fundamental constants to get smaller atoms that still interact just like larger ones though.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Jul 23, 2015 at 17:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.