So.. Gabe has been getting in to chemistry the last couple of weeks.. he has a knack for it.. so we’ve been doing a few more experiments together which has been fun. Today we set out to synthesize nitrocellulose….. it’s pretty easy to do .. you take any source of cellulose.. say cotton or paper.. and you put it in a cooled nitrating bath of half concentrated nitric acid and half concentrated sulfuric acid.. Then you rinse the material in an alkaline solution (we used baking soda) and leave it to dry.. if it works you get flash paper or gun cotton. It burns quickly with little or no ash.

here’s cellulose

and here it is after nitration

Friend Scott was kind enough to lend us the acids.. I used to have all that stuff when I was a kid.. but left it in my folks house in houston.. I never did find out what happened to it.. but it scares me to think where all those chemicals ended up..   anyway, safety is more central to my thinking now.. .. so today we were being extra careful

We began by making an ice and salt bath to chill the acid bath .

then we put on our safety gear.. the aprons were to protect our clothes.. I remember as a high school kid, my clothes always had holes form acid spatter.

we layed out our work surface.. it was a breezy daya which was good because the fumes form this are pretty noxious.

gabe added the nitric acid to a beaker in the ice bath


then he added the sulfuric acid

then we added the cotton

and we let it nitrate for more than 10 min

then we fished it out and put it in a backing soda solution  which foamed up like crazy… we stirred and added more backing soda until it stopped reacting

we also nitrated a bunch of paper from coffee filters.. with any luck, it will come out as flash paper..

we did the same process and layed it on a screen to dry.

since we had the sulfuric acid out, i wanted to show gabe the standard oxidation of sugar.. we filled a glass mason jar with white sugar.. then gabe poured in a bit of sulfuric acid..

it quickly started to caramelize

then smolder..

then the thick tube of ash stared to push up out of the jar like a snake.. it’s such a cool demo.. smells yucky , though.

ok.. all done.. we rinsed our equipment and workspace with baking soda and LOTS of water..

then put our stuff up to dry .. we’ll see if it works tomorrow.

it’s cool.. its like plastic now.. its what they used to make movie film out of.. which is why there were so many horrific movie house fires..

Gabe went of to watch football.. Diane and I put up some storm windows.. then just before 6 my firends Henry. milan and their kid Harry showed up. Henry is a friend of mine from MIT.. we were sort of roomates in law.. i guess.. Milan went there too.. enry’s dad is even a professor there..   We had a great dinner then played around with some science stuff with harry.. it was great seeing them..

OK.. that was today.. tomorrow we’ll  test the nitrocellulose..

more then.

nite all, nite sam



ps. here are some pictures from camping on the roof of the boat Thursday night.. slept great

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