Man's physical universe



NO2, which reacts with water to produce nitric acid. Nearly all of the

commercial nitric acid used in the United States today is prepared by

this method.

Nitric acid is one of the most important of the heavy chemicals. It

reacts with many organic compounds; for example, with glycerol it

forms nitroglycerol, the principal active constituent of dynamite.

Incidentally dynamite was discovered by Emanuel Nobel and his

son Alfred when one of their cans of nitroglycerine leaked into the

kieselguhr in which it was packed. This mixture was found to be more

stable than nitroglycerine and came to be known as dynamite. Nitric

acid reacts with cellulose to form nitrocellulose, whose many uses will

be discussed in Section 7 of this Unit.

Nearly All Explosives Require Nitric Acid in Their Manufacture.

The black gunpowder of our forefathers was a mixture of charcoal,

sulfur, and saltpeter, KNO3. One of the earliest synthetic organic

chemicals was mercury fulminate,

Hg(0CN)2 (mercury fulminate is

prepared from mercury, alcohol, and nitric acid), which was introduced

for percussion caps in 1819. In 1865 the Prussian army used smokeless

powder made from nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. Picric acid,

C6H2(OH)(N02)3, which is prepared by the action of phenol with

nitric acid, came into use in the Boer and Russo-Japanese Wars for

high-explosive shells; and T.N.T. was used on a large scale in the highexplosive

shells of the World War of 1914r-1918. T.N.T. (trinitrotoluene),

C6H2CH3(N02)3, is prepared by the action of nitric acid on

toluene, CeHsCHs.

A new explosive, P. E.T.N, (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), came

into use during World War II. It is made from formaldehyde, acetaldehyde,

and nitric acid. The Italian explosive T4 (cyclotrimethyltrinitramine)

is made from formaldehyde, ammonia, and nitric acid.

These two explosives are secondary explosives used for commercial

blasting and as primers for high explosives.

Explosives Are Widely Used for Peacetime Pursuits in the United States.

To the average citizen, the word "explosives" is associated with battles and

bursting shells, bomb outrages and burglars. To the quarry or mine op>erator,

explosives represent a means to meet his pay-roll and pay dividends.

To the

engineer, they mean the second most important item in the construction of

canals, the building of railroads, or the deepening of harbors, and in the production

of the metal and mineral wealth, which has given the United States

the dominant position it enjoys to-day.

The steel industry, considered the index of business in this country because

next to farming it is our greatest single industry, is dependent upon explosives

for the production of its finished product. In the extensive pit mines of the

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