Nitrocellulose is a material created by nitrating cellulose, for example, cotton. It is highly flammable, kind of dangerous and you should not play with it at home. However, it is extremely easy to make and very interesting. Also, you can use this process to make explosive tampons. Although you really shouldn’t try it, it’s dangerous!
Nitrocellulose is actually a very useful material. Back in a day it was used to make ink and wood coating, as well as in plastic treatment. For example, back in 1880s it was used as a film base in photography, X-ray films, and motion picture films. But not for a very long time, as the material is incredibly flammable – not really good to be used with hot cinema equipment. In fact many films were lost in fire due to use of nitrocellulose. It was also used as propellant or low-order explosive, but it is not that powerful. Still, you should not play with it.
However, some people do play with it. A YouTube channel, called Grant Thompson – “The King of Random”, showed the process of nitrating cotton at home. It involves dipping cotton balls into a mixture of highly concentrated nitric and sulphuric acids. In the process, cellulose is converted into cellulose nitrate and water, cotton balls become slightly heavier and a little bit yellow, because of the sulphuric acid. Now, theoretically it is possible to do this at home, but you really shouldn’t, because highly concentrated acids are very dangerous and the process produces lots of toxic fumes. It is better to see how it is done by an experienced person like Grant Thompson.
The reaction of mixing nitric and sulphuric acids is actually dangerous in itself, as it produces lots of toxic fumes and heat. Then it is just the matter of soaking cotton balls in the compound and later allowing them to dry. This time Grant Thompson decided to test another source of cotton – tampons. They are mostly made of cotton and thus can be nitrated too.
After cotton pieces are dry, you can light them. They burst into a ball of flames, which is gone in a fraction of a second. Burning pretty much does not produce smoke and just minute amount of ashes. In fact, it is the stuff magicians use in their tricks, as it ignites easily and burns extremely quickly.
In Thompson’s hands nitrated cotton bursts into flames and becomes nothing literally in seconds, but it was somewhat of a scientific experiment too. He wanted to see how much cotton he can nitrate. It turns out, 1 millilitre of nitric acid nitrates around 0.04 grams of cotton.
You should not replicate this experiment at home, but not at least you know how it is done. Also, you should look through Grant Thompson – “The King of Random” YouTube channel to find many other homemade experiments.
Source: Grant Thompson – “The King of Random”
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