nitrocellulose

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nitrocellulose,

nitric acid esterester,
any one of a group of organic compounds with general formula RCO2R′ (where R and R′ are alkyl groups or aryl groups) that are formed by the reaction between an alcohol and an acid.
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 of cellulosecellulose,
chief constituent of the cell walls of plants. Chemically, it is a carbohydrate that is a high molecular weight polysaccharide. Raw cotton is composed of 91% pure cellulose; other important natural sources are flax, hemp, jute, straw, and wood.
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 (a glucose polymer). It is usually formed by the action of a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids on purified cotton or wood pulp. The extent of nitration and degradation (breaking down) of the cellulose is carefully controlled in order to obtain the desired product. When cotton is treated so that nearly all of the hydroxyl groups of the cellulose molecule are esterified, but with little or no degradation of the molecular structure, the nitrocellulose formed is called guncotton. Guncotton resembles cotton in its appearance. Extremely flammable, it explodes when detonated and is used in the manufacture of explosives. Guncotton is insoluble in such common solvents as water, chloroform, ether, and ethanol. If the nitration is not carried to completion (the point at which about two thirds of the hydroxyl groups are esterified), the soluble cellulose nitrate pyroxylinpyroxylin
, partially nitrated cellulose (see nitrocellulose). It is used in lacquers, plastics, and artificial leathers. Pyroxylin lacquers are made by dissolving pyroxylin in a mixture of volatile solvents and adding a plasticizer and a pigment or dye.
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 is formed.

nitrocellulose

[¦nī·trō′sel·yə‚lōs]
(organic chemistry)

cellulose nitrate

A material formed by the reaction of cellulose fibers with nitric and sulfuric acids. Those with lower nitrogen content are used as binders in lacquers and are very inflammable. A high nitrogen content results in nitrocellulose, an explosive.