Lots happening but, sadly, nothing I can blog about. I need to get some RC1 experiments done before I head off to San Diego for the ACS National Meeting and Research Pageant. I really like this Mettler-Toledo RC1 and the sales and support staff. Pretty helpful folks in my experience. The Swiss make some fine equipment.
I spent the weekend reading about the very early history of gunpowder or Huo Yao (China, ca 850 AD). Turns out that the earliest clear description of a gunpowder-like composition was described in a document produced during the Tang Dynasty. A document titled “Classified Essentials of the Mysterious Tao of the True Origins of Things” contained a list of particularly dangerous elixirs.
Within this list of hazardous compositions, a warning was offered citing the dangers of mixing and heating together realgar, salt peter, sulfur, and honey. The document tells of alchemists mixing this combination and heating it resulting in a deflagration leading to burnt beards, faces, and hands as well as the loss of the structure to fire. This mix was called “fire-drug”.
There are earlier references to compositions that produced a violent effect, but the compositions are not disclosed. The information in the 850 AD document clearly describes the components of classic gunpowder- a nitrate oxidizer, sulfur for low ignition temperature, and a carbohydrate carbon source- honey. Carbohydrates readily dehydrate to afford fairly concentrated carbon.
The realgar present in the mix is puzzling. It is not unreasonable to guess that the composition may have been intended for some medicinal application. Realgar is tetraarsenic tetrasulfide. This may have been an common apothecary ingredient of the age.