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Gunpowder.

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Arcane
425905.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 4:28 am Reply with quote

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot".

Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese, right?

Well, many of the sources say you immediately look up say that they did. But it's not as simple as that! (This is QI, after all).

What is gunpowder? Gunpowder is made up of Potassium nitrate (or saltpeter), common charcoal, and sulfur. The saltpeter should make up 40 to 75%, and the charcoal and sulfur must be in equal proportions.

Firecrackers are mentioned in Chinese manuscripts of the 6th century, however it isn't clear whether these actually contained gunpowder. Pyrotechnic and military devices with explosive properties had been known around this time also, but these were made up of different substances (petroleum based).

In the 11th Century, there is firm evidence for a mixture of saltpeter, sulphur and charcoal in Chinese encyclopedias.

The spread of gunpowder to Europe could have come via the Mongols, although merchants or even the Moors via Spains are possible contenders. There is nothing to discount the independent invention of true gunpowder in Europe.

The first formula for gunpowder was actually produced by an alchemist, Roger Bacon, who was also a monk. He seems to have been aware of the properties of gunpowder as early as 1247. He mentions in his writings a forumula of 41.2% saltpeter, 29.4% charcoal, and 29.4% sulphur, but there was too little saltpeter, so it wouldn't actually have worked as a propellant.

Experimentation persisted, until the modern formula of gunpowder arrived.

source: The Gunpowder Pages, Geocities.

 
soup
425929.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:12 am Reply with quote

Homework for the week can be to explain why Gunpowder is not a high explosive.

 
Arcane
425935.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:26 am Reply with quote

A low explosive burns, but a high explosive detonates.

"Low explosives are characterized by the fact that they burn only at their surface. For example, when a cylinder of black gunpowder is ignited, it begins burning at one end of the cylinder and then continues to the other end. This process takes place very rapidly, however, and is complete in just a few thousandths of a second.

This property of slowed combustion is preferred in guns and artillery because too rapid an explosion could cause the weapon itself to blow up. A slower explosive has the effects of building up pressure to force a bullet or shell smoothly out of the weapon. Fireworks also are low explosives.

High explosives. High explosives are much more powerful than primary explosives. When they are detonated, all parts of the explosive blow up within a few millionths of a second. Some also are less likely than primary explosives to explode by accident. Examples of high explosives include ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil mixture), dynamite, nitroglycerin, PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), picric acid, and TNT (trinitrotoluene). They provide the explosive force delivered by hand grenades, bombs, and artillery shells.

High explosives that are set off by heat are called primary explosives. High explosives that can be set off only by a detonator are called secondary explosives. When mixed with oil or wax, high explosives become like clay. These plastic explosives can be molded into various shapes to hide them or to direct explosions. In the 1970s and 1980s, plastic explosives became a favorite weapon of terrorists (people who use violence in order to force a government into granting their demands). Plastic explosives can even be pressed flat to fit into an ordinary mailing envelope for use as a "letter bomb."

From Scienceclarified.com.

 
soup
426437.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:09 pm Reply with quote

Virtually there Reddy, what is required for something to burn (evenif VVV quick rather than "detonate"?

Hint :- Think fire triangle.

 
mckeonj
426512.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 6:57 pm Reply with quote

The ingredients and their proportions for gunpowder have been covered thoroughly herein; but there is more interesting stuff coming now.
From where would you get the ingredients; sulphur, saltpetre, charcoal? You could do as I did, aged 10; get them from the chemist's shop and mix them together.
Now you're in England in 17th century, Civil War going on, and you need tons of the stuff.
Charcoal is easy, you make it by roasting scrap wood and lop and top from the tree felling.
'Flowers of sulphur' (re sublimated sulphur) is collected from the chimneys of the iron works, which are busy smelting iron for weapons, from FeS, iron pyrites (flint or fools gold) and ironstone 'doggers' fished from the sea bed.
But where to find a plentiful supply of saltpetre (sodium or potassium nitrate? It is prepared by fermenting and then evaporating animal and human urine.
At the time of the Civil War, it was reckoned that the best quality saltpetre came from the urine of priests; and that of bishops and archbishops was the highest quality.
How the combination of these three substances came to be discovered, and by whom, is a mystery.
It has occurred to me that the mixture might have come from alchemical research, as the four components represent the four elements; earth (sulphur), fire (charcoal) water (urine), air (air) (the four alchemical elements are notional, not real substances);
and the optimum proportions approximate the first triangle (3 4 5).

 
Celebaelin
426561.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:53 pm Reply with quote

Have we had the thing about the origins of the word cannon meaning an artillery piece and canon as in the rank of priesthood and the idea that the artillery piece was named after the clerical post?

Anyway, that's wrong it seems.

Quote:
cannon
1400, from O.Fr. canon, from It. cannone "large tube," augmentive of L. canna (see cane). Cannon-fodder (1891) translates Ger. kanonenfutter (cf. Shakespeare's food for powder in I Hen. IV). Cannon-ball is from 1663.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=cannon&searchmode=none

Quote:
canon (1)
"church law," O.E., from L.L. canon, from L., "measuring line, rule," from Gk. kanon "rule," perhaps from kanna "reed" (see cane). Taken in ecclesiastical sense for "decree of the Church," and passed through L.L. to O.E. Canonical is first attested early 15c.; canonize, "to place in the canon or calendar of saints," is from c.1384.
canon (2)
"clergyman," c.1205, from Anglo-Fr. canun, from O.N.Fr. canonie, from L.L. canonicus "clergyman living under a rule," from L. canonicus (adj.) "according to rule," from Gk. kanonikos, from kanon (see canon (1)).

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=canon&searchmode=none

I have heard that priest's (canon's) urine was favoured for gunpowder manufacture, so much so that it became a big earner for the church (though I can't easily find a source for that) but that is a different matter. One for GI perhaps?

http://www-geology.ucdavis.edu/~cowen/~gel115/115CH16fertilizer.html
http://archives.stupidquestion.net/sq6800.html

 
Arcane
426569.  Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:42 pm Reply with quote

I had a quick look, apparently Roger Bacon (the monk who came up with an early gunpowder formula) was the one who recommended the use of priest's urine. Being that he was a monk, and it was quite a good earner for the church....

 
mckeonj
426611.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 3:51 am Reply with quote

Regarding 'canon' and 'cannon', there is a parallel pair, 'ordinance' and 'ordnance'.
Both carry the meanings 1. law 2. artillery.

 
96aelw
426696.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:16 am Reply with quote

reddygirl wrote:
I had a quick look, apparently Roger Bacon (the monk who came up with an early gunpowder formula) was the one who recommended the use of priest's urine. Being that he was a monk, and it was quite a good earner for the church....


On a quibbling technicality, he wasn't a monk, he was a friar. Pedantic, I know, and it doesn't affect your point, but if I can't be needlessly pedantic here, where can I?

 
samivel
426726.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 7:38 am Reply with quote

In your own house. And in your own time.

;)

 
Arcane
426769.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 8:23 am Reply with quote

96aelw wrote:
reddygirl wrote:
I had a quick look, apparently Roger Bacon (the monk who came up with an early gunpowder formula) was the one who recommended the use of priest's urine. Being that he was a monk, and it was quite a good earner for the church....


On a quibbling technicality, he wasn't a monk, he was a friar. Pedantic, I know, and it doesn't affect your point, but if I can't be needlessly pedantic here, where can I?


Could he have been a monk when he came up with the gunpowder formula?*

*may or may not be clutching at straws.

 
96aelw
426788.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 8:41 am Reply with quote

Could have been, but wasn't, I fear. As far as I can make out, he was only ever a Franciscan (and I suspect a monk-friar transition would have been on the unusual side). Sorry.

 
Arcane
426790.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 8:44 am Reply with quote

Blast.

Well, the source I got it from will get a firmly worded letter from myself.

"Dear Sir/Madam

What's the difference between a monk and a friar? No, it isn't an old vaudeville joke, apparently however, you lot don't seem to know the difference..."

 
exnihilo
426811.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 9:46 am Reply with quote

Very simply (because this isn't the thread for it), friars were/are mendicants whereas monks were cloistered. It was possible to leave one order and join another, unusual but not unheard of, and requiring special dispensations. Bacon did not.

 
Davini994
426888.  Tue Oct 21, 2008 11:05 am Reply with quote

At the risk of sounding like Baldrick, I was with you up to "friars".

<scuttles off to wiki>

Cloistered: Pertaining to isolation, protection, being hidden way for the sake of maintaining innocence; naive, lacking in worldliness.

Mendicant: Of or pertaining to a member of a religious order forbidden to own property, and who must beg for a living.

So do all cloistered religious communities produce something for sale?

 

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