Nobel, Alfred Bernhard

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Nobel, Alfred Bernhard

(äl`frĕd bĕrn`härd nōbĕl`), 1833–96, Swedish chemist and inventor. Educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, he traveled as a youth and returned to St. Petersburg in 1852 to assist his father in the development of torpedoes and mines. Manufacture of a mixture of nitroglycerinnitroglycerin
, C3H5N3O9, colorless, oily, highly explosive liquid. It is the nitric acid triester of glycerol and is more correctly called glycerol trinitrate.
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 and gunpowdergunpowder,
explosive mixture; its most common formula, called "black powder," is a combination of saltpeter, sulfur, and carbon in the form of charcoal. Historically, the relative amounts of the components have varied.
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, developed cooperatively by the family, was begun in the small Nobel works in Heleneborg, near Stockholm, in 1863. After a number of serious explosions, which killed several people, Nobel continued experimentation with nitroglycerin in order to find a safer explosive. In 1866 he perfected a combination of nitroglycerin and kieselguhr, a diatomaceous earth (see diatomdiatom
, unicellular organism of the kingdom Protista, characterized by a silica shell of often intricate and beautiful sculpturing. Most diatoms exist singly, although some join to form colonies.
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), to which he gave the name dynamitedynamite,
explosive made from nitroglycerin and an inert, porous filler such as wood pulp, sawdust, kieselguhr, or some other absorbent material. The proportions vary in different kinds of dynamite; often ammonium nitrate or sodium nitrate is added.
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. His other inventions include an explosive gelatin more powerful than dynamite and the smokeless powder Ballistite. Nobel, who inclined toward pacifism, had long had reservations about his family's industry, and he developed strong misgivings about the potential uses of his own invention. On his death in San Remo, Italy, he left a fund from the interest of which annual awards, the Nobel PrizesNobel Prize,
award given for outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, peace, or literature. The awards were established by the will of Alfred Nobel, who left a fund to provide annual prizes in the five areas listed above.
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, are given for work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature, and toward the promotion of international peace.

Bibliography

See biography by H. Schück et al., Nobel: The Man and His Prizes (3d ed. 1972).

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