The Chemistry of Gunpowder


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I chose gunpowder because if its explosive qualities and also because i love to blow things up.Gunpowder was first discovered in china during the 8th century.The Chinese used it to treat skin diseases because it would kill the bacteria, they later discovered its military purposes. Gunpowder is still used in military equipment today all around the world

Composition of ...

The composition of gunpowder is pretty simple it is just potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal.

  • Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)- Potassium Nitrate can come from the walls of certain caves and it can also be made by boiling saltpeter and wood ashes then letting it dry. Potassium Nitrate supplies the oxygen for the reaction

  • Sulfur(S)-Serves as a fuel but it also lowers the temperature needed to ignite the mixture and is usually extracted from large geologic deposits. You can buy sulfur from certain stores around town

  • Charcoal(C)-provides carbon and other fuel for the reaction and charcoal is made by just burning wood with the absence of air.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Potassium Nitrate(KNO3)

Colorless crystal that can be smashed up into a fine white powder.  When it decomposes it releases oxygen and is commonly used in such things as explosives, fireworks, model rocket propellants, matches, and fertilizers, and  as a preservative in food.


Black solid that is the residue of when wood, bone, or other organic materials are burned in the absence of air.  It is basically pure carbon and is used in cooking, helps filter water, and it also helps prevent rust.

Chemistry's Role

Chemistry plays a big role in the properties of gunpowder because all of the ingredients in it are traced back to the periodic table.  Charcoal provides the carbon and Sulfur provides most of the fuel.  Also when making potassium nitrate you have to combbind  1 atom of potassium,  1 atom nitrogen, and 3 atoms of oxygen. The reaction of gunpowder when it lights on fire is exothermic, and it burns at a speed of 500 m/s

The chemical reaction of gunpowder

10KNO3 + 3S + 8C → 2K2CO3 +3K2SO4 + 6CO2 + 5N2

Background Research

Gunpowder was first discovered in China during the  Tang dynasty in the 8th century, they were the first to mix sulphur and saltpeter with charcoal to create the explosive powder.

The Chinese used it to treat skin diseases because it would kill the bacteria, they later discovered its military purposes.  Thats when they created the Chinese fire arrow, they would attach gunpowder packets to their arrows and shoot them.  After doing that for awhile they realized that the if you placed the gunpowder in a bamboo stick the force of the explosion would propel the bamboo stick without launching from a bow and arrow.


About the Author

Isaac Reinschmidt is a junior at Billings Senior High School.  He enjoys golfing, pole vaulting, snowboarding and wakeboarding.  He has an older brother and an older sister that have both attended Billings Senior High School.  He plans on going to college and becoming an mechanical engineer.