Unobtainium, a metal featured in films like “Avatar” and “The Core”, was an engineering term coined in the 50’s to describe any highly desirable material that is hypothetical, scientifically impossible, extremely rare, costly, or fictional

Unobtainium

In fiction, engineering, and thought experiments, unobtainium is any hypothetical, fictional, or impossible material, but it can also mean a tangible but extremely rare, costly, or reasonably unobtainable material. Less commonly, it can refer to a device with desirable engineering properties for an application, but which are exceedingly difficult or impossible to achieve.

The properties of any particular example of unobtainium depend on the intended use, e.g. a pulley made of unobtainium might be massless and frictionless; however, if used in a nuclear rocket, unobtainium might have the needed qualities of lightness, strength at high temperatures, and resistance to radiation damage, having all 3 qualities being nearly impossible for tod… Continue Reading (5 minute read)

11 thoughts on “Unobtainium, a metal featured in films like “Avatar” and “The Core”, was an engineering term coined in the 50’s to describe any highly desirable material that is hypothetical, scientifically impossible, extremely rare, costly, or fictional”

  1. gregoryhyde

    I remember when Giovanni Ribisi said that line in Avatar, it destroyed my experience watching the movie with giant, blue space monkeys. Took me right out of it… kudos to him for somehow saying it with a straight face.

  2. testfire10

    Can confirm. We still use the term in engineering in situations like: this would work really well if only we could make it out of unobtainium

  3. BighurtRN

    While James Cameron has great ideas, he is an awful writer of dialog. Every scene sounds like “speaking of spring chickens, the guy was pulling my leg just to rain on my parade. But, I pulled myself together and I got out of the doghouse. Unobtainium.”

  4. jollygoodvelo

    And today you’re also about to learn that Unobtainium is a material trademarked by Oakley, it’s what the earsocks on their glasses/sunglasses are made of.

  5. herrdirektor57

    And I still think using the term within a fiction piece as a “real” thing is some lazy-ass writing.

  6. taoistchainsaw

    It’s the primary material used to make widgets and MacGuffins.

  7. h3r4ld

    Yes, it’s a very real fake material.

  8. sheezy520

    Is Unobtainium very hard to obtain?

  9. MrCENSOREDbot

    It’s just the word “unobtainable” turned into a word that sounds like an element. Can be funny IMO if used as a joke, but used as a plot device meant to be taken seriously it makes me cringe.

  10. ficejeb

    i always thought it was pretty lazy writing in Avatar to call it “unobtainium”

  11. jimtrickington

    Same stuff as wishalloy

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