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gunpow10final - Szmyd 1 John Szmyd Research Skills Mrs...

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John Szmyd Research Skills Mrs. Potter 5/9/06 Early Explosives The future of the world was changed with the invention of gunpowder. The simple mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal could, in the correct proportions, create an explosion powerful enough to fire a cannonball through the walls of a castle, shoot a bullet into a human body, or blast away rocks to make way for roads. Roger Bacon, credited as the first European to discover gunpowder, was thoughtful in encoding the chemical formula for black powder in an anagram, fearing the drastic implications of such a chemical (Davis 35). The development of gunpowder by chemists in the western world greatly influenced political structure, war, and industry. Though the development of gunpowder in its early stages was useful and exciting, not until the idea of the gun was gunpowder made such a celebrated invention. Prior to the eighteenth century when gunpowder became obsolete, gunpowder was the primary means of firing a bullet or projectile. For nine hundred years this black powdery mixture was the only combination of natural ingredients that could combust at such a fast rate (Kelly IX). If mixed to the correct Stoichiometrical proportions—about a 6:1:1 ratio of potassium nitrate to sulfur to charcoal, a chemical reaction would take place when the Szmyd 1
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powder is burned, and much of the solid would turn quickly into a gas. “In a confined space such as the breech of a gun, the pent-up gas can be used for propelling a missile such as a bullet or artillery shell” (Gunpowder). This intense expulsion of power needed a strong material to contain and direct it. According to Jack Kelly: The only material that could withstand the unheard-of stress and heat was metal. In the fourteenth century, metal remained a rare, expensive, and intractable material. Gunners were all too aware that a weakness at the breech (the solid base at the bottom of the bore), or an overload of powder, or a ball jammed in the tube, could raise the pressure inside the gun beyond the bursting point, setting off an explosion that would spray the gunner himself with fire and jagged metal fragments (29). The use of gunpowder was a dangerous addition to battle; it had dangerous implications for those firing the gun and those that the guns were aimed at it. Because the surface of the grains of black powder reacts first, the finer the grains, the faster the burning rate (Gunpowder). However, the varying sizes of grains caused guns to blow up in the users’ faces. “James II of Scotland was standing back of one of the earliest cannons, at the siege of Roxburgh Castle in 1460, when it exploded, killing, among many others, him” (Chidsey 29). Eventually, uniform grain sizes were manufactured, furthering the development of a chemical that could allow an untrained boy with a musket to shoot and kill a full-grown soldier.
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