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Nobel, Alfred Bernhard

russia father manufacture explosive

[noh bel] (1833–96) Swedish chemist: inventor of dynamite.

Nobel’s father was an inventive engineer who travelled widely. The family moved to Russia in 1842 (where Nobel’s father was supervising the manufacture of a submarine mine he had devised) and Alfred was educated there by tutors; his studies included chemistry and five modern languages. He went in 1850 to study chemistry in Paris, and then travelled in Europe before visiting the USA to work with J Ericsson (1803–99), the Swedish–American inventor of the marine screw propeller. He returned to Russia and then to Sweden in 1859. He was much interested, like his father, in the use of explosives in civil engineering, especially in the developing US market. In 1865 he began to manufacture glyceryl trinitrate (‘nitroglycerin’, discovered in 1847 by A Sobrero (1812–88)), but the dangerously explosive liquid caused accidents in handling; his factory blew up the same year with five deaths (including that of his brother Emil). In 1866 he found that it was a safe high explosive if absorbed in kieselguhr; the mixture was sold in waxed card tubes as ‘dynamite’. In 1875 he invented blasting gelatine or gelignite (nitroglycerin in nitrocellulose), an even better blasting agent; and he profited from oil wells he owned in Russia. His inventions were wide-ranging, and covered by 355 patents. His fortune was large and much of it was left to endow the Nobel Prizes. Element 102 is named nobelium after him.

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