The invention of nitroglycerin.

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Also called as nitroglycerin, it is a highly unstable, explosive, flammable pale-yellow liquid; soluble in alcohol, freezes at 13°C and explodes at 260°C. It is used as an explosive, to make dynamite, and in medicine. It has the chemical formula C3H5N3O9 [1].


The Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero invented nitroglycerin in 1847. His method is detailed in an 1849 publication[2]:

  • Two volumes of sulphuric acid of 1.84 SG (specific gravity) and one volume of nitric acid of 1.5 SG was added to concentrated glycerin (glycerol). Before the addition, the acids were kept at a temperature of several degrees below zero.
  • The glycerol was stirred constantly until it was dissolved.
  • The solution was then poured from the vessel into distilled water at normal temperature.
  • Drops of oily liquid immediately collected at the bottom of the vessel and joined to form a distinct layer.
  • He called this oily liquid “piroglycerina”(Italian for “fire-glycerin”).

Here is a photograph[3] of Ascanio Sobrero:

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  2., pages 195-201.