Definitions

fulminate

fulminate

[fuhl-muh-neyt]
fulminate, any salt of fulminic acid, HONC, a highly unstable compound known only in solution. The term is most commonly applied to the explosive mercury (II) fulminate, also called fulminate of mercury, Hg(ONC)2. The pure compound forms white cubic crystals. It is made by the action of nitric acid on mercury metal in the presence of alcohol and is often collected as a gray or brown sandy powder. It is very sensitive to heat, shock, or friction and is used in primers, detonators, and blasting caps.
Fulminates are chemical compounds which include the fulminate ion. The fulminate ion is a pseudohalic ion, acting like a halogen with its charge and reactivity. Due to the instability of the ion, they are friction-sensitive explosives. The best known is mercury fulminate which has been used as a primary explosive in detonators. Fulminates can be formed from metals, like silver and mercury, dissolved in nitric acid and reacted with alcohol. The chemical formula for the fulminate ion is ON+C. It is largely the presence of the weak single nitrogen-oxygen bond which leads to its instability. Nitrogen very easily forms a stable triple bond to another nitrogen atom, forming gaseous nitrogen.

Historical notes

Fulminates were discovered by Edward Charles Howard in 1800.. Their use in firearms in a fulminating powder was first demonstrated by a Scottish minister, A. J. Forsyth, who was granted a patent in 1807. Joshua Shaw then made the transition to their use in metallic encapsulations, to form a percussion cap, but did not patent his invention until 1822.

In the 1820s, the organic chemist Justus Liebig discovered silver fulminate (Ag-CNO) and Friedrich Wöhler discovered silver cyanate (Ag-OCN). The fact that these substances have the same chemical composition led to an acrid dispute, which was not resolved until Jöns Jakob Berzelius came up with the concept of isomers.

Compounds

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See also

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