Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane, or CL-20, was developed as a highly energetic, compact, and efficient explosive. What makes it unusual is not that it blows up – go find me a small hexa-N-nitro compound that doesn’t – but that it doesn’t actually blow up immediately, early, and often. No, making things that go off when someone down the hall curses at the coffee machine, that’s no problem. Making something like this that can actually be handled and stored is a real accomplishment.
Not that it’s what you’d call a perfect compound in that regard – despite a lot of effort, it’s still not quite ready to be hauled around in trucks. There’s a recent report of a method to make a more stable form of it, by mixing it with TNT. Yes, this is an example of something that becomes less explosive as a one-to-one cocrystal with TNT. Although, as the authors point out, if you heat those crystals up the two components separate out, and you’re left with crystals of pure CL-20 soaking in liquid TNT, a situation that will heighten your awareness of the fleeting nature of life.
A research chemist blogs about chemicals that are so dangerous or simply awful to be around that he simply refuses to work with them.
Dangerous chemicals, chemicals that smell as bad as the last dead possum at the very end of the highway of the Universe, chemicals that are so corrosive that creating a flask that can contain them is just as complicated as synthesizing the chemical itself…and he’s a terrifically entertaining writer. Every time I discover a blog like this, (via this week’s “What If?” science blog) I’m reminded why I’m going to miss Google Reader.