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Nitroglycerine (Molecule of the Month for January 2006)


Nitroglycerine is an explosive, colourless, extremely shock sensitive liquid, first made by Ascanio Sobrero in 1846. In the early days of its discovery, the impure nitroglycerine was liable to explode without warning. The Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel studied these problems and worked hard to improve nitroglycerine as a tool for blasting rock and mining. He also found that when combined with silica it can be turned into a paste and kneaded into shapes. This is commonly known as dynamite.

Nitroglycerine (1,2,3-trinitropropane) is made by treating glycerol with a mixture of sulphuric and nitric acid. The ensuing reaction is highly exothermic and the reaction must be kept at a very low temperature or the niroglycerine will explode leading to loss of life or even limb.

Surprisingly nitroglycerine has applications in the treatment of angina and chest pain. It works by dilating blood vessels which allows more blood to flow and improves blood flow to the heart. It is applied in the form of a skin patch or a paste to prevent attacks of chest pain however it cannot be used to stop an attack that has already started. Nitroglycerine does have side effects. Headaches, flushing, rapid heartbeat, or restlessness as the body adjusts to the medication.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
propane-1,2,3-triyl trinitrate

Picture of Nitroglycerine 3D model

click on the picture of  Nitroglycerine above to interact
with the 3D model of the
Nitroglycerine structure
(this will open a new browser window)

Picture of Nitroglycerine


Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for January 2006 )

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