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<   No. 1821   2008-01-21   >

Comic #1821

1 Jamie: This Plane of Death is pretty...
1 Adam: Infinite?
2 Jamie: I was thinking Featureless. I wonder what's under the surface.
3 {beat}
4 Adam: There's one way to find out. {brandishing some dynamite}

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Many of you no doubt already know this, but for those of you who don't, prepare to learn something. Dynamite is an explosive made from the much more unstable and dangerous explosive Nitroglycerin by mixing the liquid with an absorbing material. This renders the result stable to the physical shocks that can detonate pure nitroglycerin.

The fact that dynamite is made in this way leads to two consequences:

  1. It is possible to extract the nitroglycerin from dynamite and render it back into the unstable form of a liquid explosive.
  2. When stored dynamite gets old, the nitroglycerin can soak out of the protective wrapper and either crystallise on the surface of the sticks or pool as a liquid on the floor of the container. This creates a dangerous situation, as without the absorbing material there is a danger of physical shock detonating the result.

Dynamite was the first (relatively) safe explosive to have an explosive power greater than gunpowder. It was invented in 1866 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, and is his second most famous legacy.

In 1888, a French newspaper published an obituary of Nobel, which roundly condemned him for his invention of a device of such destructive potential (among other devices - Nobel was an inventor and developer of military technology) that it would be used as a weapon and cause misery to many people. The major problem with this obituary was that Nobel had not yet died.

According to some scholars of his life, reading this premature obituary so upset Nobel that he vowed to leave a more positive legacy to mankind. He was an incredibly wealthy man, and in 1895 wrote his last will and testament, in which he left the majority of his fortune to the establishment of a trust fund to finance an annual series of awards. His instructions were for a series of institutions to decide and award annual prizes for positive achievements in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, and, finally, for "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, had given the world the Nobel Prizes.

2018-09-07 Rerun commentary: For purposes of warfare and rebellion, dynamite was used for bombing campaigns and artillery only for a relatively brief period, from about 1880 to just after 1900. The introduction of even safer and more powerful explosives such as TNT and its derivatives led to dynamite quickly being phased out for anti-personnel military purposes.

So in an interesting twist, by far the main use of dynamite for the past century or so has been for peaceful purposes, such as mining, construction, demolition, and blowing up cement trucks on Discovery Channel TV shows.

Maybe Alfred Nobel would be okay with that after all.

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