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How Not to Do It: TATP

You may well have heard about an incident at the University of Bristol, where a student inadvertently prepared some triacetone triperoxide (TATP). That’s a substance that I definitely won’t work with, but I haven’t done an entry on it in that category because of its unfortunate significance. No one is going to make a batch of FOOF at home, but TATP is another matter. It can be prepared from (reasonably) common chemicals, and thus is a favorite weapon of terrorist bombers the world over. Its main defect is its extreme sensitivity, which at least at one time earned it the nickname (in Arabic) of “Mother of Satan”. Here’s the Wikipedia page on acetone peroxides (there are several) if you want that on your browser history. Let there be no doubt: synthesizing and handling TATP in any sort of large quantity is an invitation to be killed without warning, and “large” kicks in quite early on the scale. High-energy compounds have no regard for the humans working with them; you’ll get more consideration from a hungry leopard, who at least might regard you as useful for his own ends.

When the Bristol story came out, it was hard to understand how someone wanders into making TATP, but this C&E News story has all the details. It was in the workup of a chlorite oxidation reaction done in acetone, and the original prep suggested adding a small amount of 30% hydrogen peroxide at the end to consume some yellow by-products (such as chlorine dioxide, which you’d rather not have around). The student tried it, and the yellow was still there, so he added some more. And some more, and some more. Without thinking, he got up to about 50 mL of peroxide, and on the workup, he noticed that he had a lot more organic phase material than he should have during the extraction. That, fortunately, was when the mental alarm went off – had he carried on and rota-vapped that stuff down, this story would doubtless have a much different ending. Theoretical yield was about 40g of TATP, which is too much by any reasonable person’s definition.

They called in the bomb squad, who did a controlled demolition, and that sounds like probably the right choice. If the TATP were diluted, it could probably be moved and then decomposed slowly, but the report is that the liquid was already becoming more viscous, so I can understand the caution. I wouldn’t volunteer to add the extra DI water to that sep funnel myself, much less any reducing agent. I’m very glad that no one was injured, and that this has perhaps called some attention (once again) to the fact that acetone and hydrogen peroxide do not live harmoniously.

97 comments on “How Not to Do It: TATP”

  1. Andrew R says:

    Well, the student is to be commended at least for having a mental alarm go off in the first place if not for adding that much peroxide. It seems we’re always hearing about folks in dangerous situations like these not having the common sense (not so common apparently) to realize they’re in a dangerous situation in the first place.

  2. loupgarous says:

    (action: winces) Of course, now that it’s in the news, there are going to be people who for various (but insufficient) reasons say to themselves “Kewl. Let me try that…” or even work up a binary munition to make TATP even more the National Molecule of Violent Radicals everywhere than it is now.

    But it’s worth getting the news out, if only to prevent more budding organic chemists from making this stuff accidentally – which apparently is now a “thing”.

  3. David says:

    Note to self, when grabbing random chemicals to clean out the kitchen sink/garbage disposal, NOT acetone and H2O2…

    Wait…that’s actually something I can see someone doing accidentally/naiively/thoughtlessly. Is that a real risk with garden (bathroom?) variety chemicals?

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      I don’t think household hydrogen peroxide is concentrated enough to cause trouble, but I’m not sure I want to Google that topic, either (!)

      1. David says:

        Well that was partly my thought in commenting rather than asking…, especially the thought that a yield of a few grams could a problem, since you wrote 40g “is too much by any reasonable person’s definition.”
        I’m definitely curious, but not exactly jumping to find out by experiment, particularly after commenting on this article!

        1. David says:

          *asking Google

          1. Bruce Hamilton says:

            15 vol H2O2 solution is apparently OK, and 2-4+ grams of TATP are considered likely to explode uninvited. The trimer, made by keeping the reaction below 10C is slightly more stable than the dimer. However most forms are not pure, and not stable on storage. Full manufacturing details are widely available, but pre-experiment risk assessments are not included or prevalent.

    2. RM says:

      Pros: It scours your pipes.

      Cons: It scours your sink … your floors … your walls … the front door of the house across the street …

      1. David says:

        Cons, or features? Not *just* for pipes, but multipurpose!

      2. Pennpenn says:

        “It scours your house from the street…”

      3. Keith Eagen says:

        I have images of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and the Push Button House. “Never push the red button.”

      4. J n says:

        I have seen a soda straw containing a little TATP inserted into a grapefruit. Then a length of cannon fuse was added and lit. There was a strong grapefruit smell left in the air. I had video of that on the internet … back in the 90s!

    3. Christian says:

      This happened in one of our lab courses when I was a student. A colleague tried to clean a polymer-clogged sintered glass funnel first with acetone, then with Caro’s acid (mix of concentrated sulfuric acid and H2O2 solution). But he forgot to empty out the acetone that was already sitting in the vacuum flask below… Luckily most of us were on lunch break or in other parts of the room, so nobody got hurt when it went off. There was quite some damage to the (open) hood, the flask was reduced to tiny bits, and the window on the opposite side of the room had a little hole in it.

      1. tangent says:

        Yipes. I know that piranha solution and Caro’s acid are dangerous to come in contact with organics, but I hadn’t considered that in particular, reaction with common acetone wash.

      2. Kugelrohr says:

        Similar thing happened in our lab… a glass frit was cleaned with Caro’s acid (Peroxymonosulfuric acid, H2SO5)… after the Caro’s acid went through the frit, the absent-minded chemist squirted a dash of acetone into the frit to accelerate the drying process… big mistake… boom

        Luckily, the explosion didn’t happen instantly but was preceded by a hissing sound… there was a split second in which she was able to slam the sash shut… the bang was exceptionally loud… when we came back to look for the glass pieces, we just couldn’t find any… we were puzzled – until we realized that the frit literally had been pulverized…

    4. loupgarous says:

      the stabilized 3% H202 in your medicine cabinet’s probably not an explosion hazard. Don’t know why you’d be chasing it with nail polish remover (the acetone most folks have right next to the peroxide in the medicine cabinet). Acetone does a decent job dissolving some things that might be clogging up your drain, but strong bases will turn them into a nice, soluble soap.

      The scary thing is that you can get 30-33% “food grade” H2O2 through the Internet in drums. And acetone’s easy to get at the hardware store, it’s a popular paint thinner.

      1. Xmas says:

        Somewhat related:

        People are drinking “food grade” H202 as a “natural” cure.

        1. loupgarous says:

          Viewed broadly, 30% H2O2 is an “antibiotic”. And used to clean food prep areas, it’s great at that. It’ll oxidize the crap out of anything organic in its way. Why some people think a teaspoon of it would go down like Bristol Cream, however, when they wouldn’t do the same thing with Clorox beats me.

          1. Anonymous says:

            Used to be “go drink bleach” was a putdown.

          2. loupgarous says:

            Strictly speaking, the peroxide was meant to be swallowed, while the dentist was talking about a mouth rinse, and as dental mouth rinses go, a weak sodium hypochlorite solution’s not the worst thing I’ve seen dentists prescribe. That would be sodium flouride mouthwash (which, at least, has instructions on the bottle never, ever, ever to swallow it).

            But that’s not the most hair-raising thing on the website JaneX gave us. That would be the ad for something called “Oxy-Powder Colon Cleaner”.

            Quoting from that site:
            “A Brief History of the Invention of Oxy-Powder
            Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND
            Oxy-Powder is the result of unparalleled research and development in ozone, superoxide and ozonide technology used to create a powerful oxygen based colon cleanser which slowly releases monatomic oxygen to the intestinal tract and body.
            The history of Oxy-Powder is based on our superoxide/ozonide creation and stabilization process which was invented during Dr. Group’s research on the root cause of disease. He found that all disease is caused when the body becomes so contaminated with toxic residue from our daily lives that our own internal self-healing mechanism is suppressed. These toxins come from air, food, water, beverages, harmful organisms, stress, radiation and many other potential sources and over 90% of these toxins enter through the intestinal lining.
            This led Dr. Group on a journey to create the most powerful oxygen releasing, toxin neutralizing colon cleansing product on the market. It all started by studying the works of the most famous ozone and reactive oxygen species scientists worldwide dating back to the late 1700’s.
            With the help of many brilliant scientists and many years of painstaking trial and error, Dr. Group was able to stabilize reactive oxygen species to magnesium compounds, and Oxy-Powder was born. We started selling our first batches in the late 90’s and since then Oxy-Powder has become the industry standard for oxygen intestinal cleansers. The name Oxy-Powder was chosen to describe the process and power of transmuting a preparation of ozone and magnesium oxides into a stabilized oxygen releasing powder to support health and longevity.”

            Not in my colon, thanks.

      2. andrewa says:

        And people who play with the stuff in drum quantities soon learn the physical definition of unstable explosive. Unfortunately so will their innocent neighbours.

  4. bl says:

    Wow thanks–very good lesson for students. Given how common these chemicals are in labs (acetone and peroxides of various kinds), its amazing that this does not happen more often.

    The following is only tangentially related, but is information worth noting for this audience. Journal catalogs (like the ACS, for example) do not act as intermediaries in authorship claims. Rather, their policy is to abide by the publishing institution’s decision. Depending on the institution, this is often de facto what the PI decides, particularly if the individual involved in mediating authorship decisions has other appointments in the institute ( for example, as a fund raiser or as a general counsel). So, for non-senior authors, please make sure that you are very aware of what the PI says regarding authorship AND collect hard-copied documentation of this in email form. Otherwise, you will likely be out of options if the authorship order changes at the PI’s discretion. Thank you.

  5. Sofia says:

    I wonder how many people have risked this same inadvertent synthesis by washing out a NoChromix cleaning solution (which to my knowledge contains an oxidizing peroxide) with acetone to try and dry it faster….

  6. Petros says:

    It is certainly not easy to get higher volume peroxide solutions in the UK now, even though they were routinely used by hairdressers. Restrictions were introduced after some terrorists used the local woods as their base to prepare some TATP (and somehow didn’t blow themselves up) .

    1. Nick K says:

      After the bombings in London on 7/7/2005 I remember reading that the terrorists had bought large quantities of dilute hydrogen peroxide, and had concentrated it by boiling it down.

      1. Passerby says:

        I wonder how many of these idiots have actually blown themselves up and saved us the trouble of hunting them down.

        1. loupgarous says:

          Al Qaeda in Algeria scored a huge “own goal” that way, trying to weaponize plague, and saved the US Special Operations Command the expense and trouble of finding them and snuffing their candles.

      2. AlphaGamma says:

        I was doing chemistry at undergrad in the UK shortly after that, and was told that the 21/7 bombings might have failed because of blood getting into the explosive (and catalase destroying the peroxide). In those cases the bomb was a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and chapatti flour, with TATP as the detonator.

      3. Zach says:

        I’ve done that with freeze distillation, but I was very careful and had gloves and goggles and everything… Pretty sure I didn’t get it past 20-30%.

        Was trying to synthesize a fungicide to clear out tomato rot, the commercially available stuff was an arm and a leg but for $15 at the grocery store I made some at home. Worked great too, fortunately.

        1. loupgarous says:

          You started with 3% H2O2 from the grocery store? Nice technique.

          1. Zach says:

            Yeah, it took a couple days, but I distilled about a gallon? something like that.. down to about 10 ounces. So even if it was perfect and none got lost in the ice, (which I’m certain it did,) I wouldn’t have more than about 30%. I just ran it through a sieve every couple of hours, let it drain for a minute, then threw away the ice. Not sure how strong the final product was, but a drop of it that got on my finger while I was cleaning the counter after was strong enough to instantly bleach it with a bit of a sting, so I got it reasonably concentrated. The fungicide I needed was just peroxyacetic acid, so some white vinegar took care of the other reagent. It was kinda fun putting my orgo knowledge to use and my girlfriend at the time was impressed, especially when it actually worked on the tomato rot.

          2. loupgarous says:

            I think you just set a standard for alpha-nerdness. Not everyone does a synthesis with homemade 30% H202 and white vinegar AND makes points with his lady. I did it with tech-fu by making mead in my girlfriend’s bathroom closet (she was something in the local Society for Creative Anachronism) but I didn’t use Buchner’s method for extracting fermentation enzymes from yeast, just plain old wine yeast cakes and competent sterilization technique. She married me, though, so it had the desired effect.

  7. Jeg858 says:

    One of the key lessons pointed out in the piece was the importance of “developing and fostering a culture in which colleagues recognise errors and misjudgements, and they are supported to report near misses”.

    1. Kent G. Budge says:

      A lot depends on how near misses are handled. You have to have some consequences or people figure safety rules aren’t to be taken seriously. On the other hand, draconian consequences create a powerful temptation to cover up.

      A reasonable compromise, I think, is a one-strike rule for significant violations that aren’t self-reported and a three-strike rule for those that are.

      1. aairfccha says:

        Thereby ensuring that it’s the third and following oopsies that goes unreported. Great plan.

      2. Gene Cash says:

        Actually “getting yourself blown up” is usually a severe enough consequence to adhere to the safety rules. You don’t need a clipboard-nazi to “help”

        This similar to the aircraft incident reporting rules. You know you’re an idiot that barely survive, so you report the issue to help other idiots survive too. You’re explicitly protected from legal consequences if you fully come clean.

  8. anon says:

    Interesting that the risk of TATP formation had been identified in the initial risk assessment, but the student was focussed on another aspect of the work and it slipped their mind, which it’s easy to see happening. I guess the initial risk assessment was why they realised what they’d done when they did instead of at a later and more dangerous point. Probably as well as saying “this is a risk”, they needed a specific rule of “do not add more than x mL of H2O2”.

    1. David says:

      One would have thought that “risk of making high explosive” would have stuck in one’s mind…

      1. Mark Thorson says:

        Maybe procedures need something like a black box warning, so students don’t just read past something like blah blah blah risk of unplanned deflagration blah blah blah without having their brain fully engaged.

      2. mjs says:

        Agreed. Especially a high explosive nicknamed “Mother of Satan” by suicide bombers.

      3. flblbl says:

        I remember clearly a inorganic chemistry practical at uni where we had to mix powders slowly because “shock applied on the fine mixture can detonate it”. Didn’t stop one of the other students to vigorously crush it with his mortar. He “just” got some micro scars on one of his hands, but still.
        I also remember accidentally making a good chunk of elemental sulfur and as much of his bestie sulfur dioxide in the bin. And one of the guys working at the lab putting a paper bin on fire by soaking up nitric acid with paper towels and throwing them in there just like that.

  9. Jack Straw from Wichita says:

    “Alexa…..please re-order 30% peroxide and acetone”

  10. kriggy says:

    I just want to point out that TATP doesnt seem to be “that sensitive” (of course its piece of stuff I dont want to work)
    Question is whether is realy is TATP …

  11. pjcamp says:

    This is why I’m not a chemist. Well, one of the reasons. General relativity isn’t apt to blow your fool head off.

    1. DrOcto says:

      General relativity is the reason I am a chemist and not a physicist. My mind was indeed blown up by that one.

    2. metaphysician says:

      Yes, but when general relativity blows stuff up, it takes the whole neighborhood ( city, continent, planet. . . ). 😉

  12. Chad Irby says:

    It’s amazing how many scary chemistry stories include a phrase like “…and then added hydrogen peroxide…”

  13. Major advance says:

    I wonder if hydrogen disulfide would be tolerated

    1. Photocatatonic says:

      Maybe you could use Ir(ppy)3 as an initiator…now THAT would be a major advance. Probably Science(TM), but at least JACS.

  14. Albert says:

    Now it seems amazing, but 20 years ago when I was 18-19 we used to make a lot of explosives in university lab just for fun and no one seemed to think much about it. Acetone peroxide trimer (up to 40 g), trinitro glycerine (<1 ml), para nitro diazonium perchlorate (good stuff!!!), iodine nitride, picric acid, lead azide, TNT. I've either made them myself or seen someone else in the lab do so. In fact acetone peroxide was considered nothing special (on modest scales) and was used in demonstrations. If you do it correctly it only makes a fireball instead of exploding. Of course all that was before terrorists, ISIS etc. No way I'd do it now…

    1. David Antonini says:

      Doesn’t seem amazing at all to me. You probably learned more practical chemistry doing those things than you did in theory classes.

    2. A Bc says:

      “Before terrorists”?!
      I believe B) the IRA was active on the mainland in 1998, and
      A) terrorism recorded c. 50 AD against Roman occupations.

  15. Jay says:

    The reaction is already sort of dangerous in general, right? You’re using chlorate, a fairly potent oxidant, and mixing it with a bunch of organic stuff in an acidic solution, at relatively decent scales. Not “create 40 grams of high explosives” dangerous maybe, but certainly “could start a fire pretty easily if something happens” and “this would probably hurt me if I got it on my skin” dangerous. I can see where a student gets into the mindset of “stuff’s sort of dangerous so I should be careful, which I know how to do in general” such that when there’s a specific warning “you might form some TATP” it just sort of blends into the general “this reaction is sort of dangerous”

    1. fajensen says:

      Chlorates are the base of a group of explosives called Cheddites. Comes from WW I research, they were really scraping the barrels on simple ways to blow each other up.

  16. dearieme says:

    “They called in the bomb squad”: so did neighbours of ours once. The husband was clearing the garden shed after his wife had vetoed his brilliant suggestion that he just burn it down.

    He found a German bomb from The War.

    1. Rhenium says:

      Basil: Listen, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right.

      [returns to the Germans]

      So! It’s all forgotten now, and let’s hear no more about it. So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.

  17. Anonymous says:

    First, an impromptu poll: Who here owns Fieser and Fieser Vol 1? Who here knows what Fieser and Fieser is? Who here knows who Fieser is? Regardless …

    F&F, Vol 1, page 407, Hydrogen peroxide. “… The 90% peroxide supplied by Buffalo Electrochem. Co. is very pure and requires no stabilizer; the rate of decomposition, 1% per year at 30C, is much less than for 30-35% solutions.” Even then, it would not ship by air or USPS and had to shipped by truck. 100% H2O2 is prepared by further drying and distillation (yikes!).

    HOWEVER! If you think you need really, really need anhydrous H2O2, consider one of the safer adducts (urea-H202, DABCO-H2O2, etc.) or a bis-silyl peroxide, R3SiO-OSiR3 or other stable derivative.

    1. loupgarous says:

      A guy who’d just gotten out of the “racing rocket cars on the Bonneville Salt Flats” business was selling 90% hydrogen peroxide on EBay (and this was AFTER the 9/11 attacks).

      I asked him for more information, thinking “this has got to be BS… ” and he sent snapshots of the aluminum drums of what he was selling – embossed “BECCO” and “property of US Navy”. I didn’t have the money to send off for a drum, or the desire to explain to Homeland Security why I needed it.

      The good old days….

      1. Anonymous says:

        I recall a C&EN story from the early 1980s about a group at K (Kansas or Kentucky?) preparing a batch of 100% H2O2. It exploded during purification and blew off a corner of the building. I vaguely recall a picture of the lab walls completely blown out. I believe they (Kansas? Kentucky?) shut down their chemistry program after that incident before restoring it after a couple of years.

        1. loupgarous says:

          While disestablishing the entire chemistry program sounds a little extreme (I’m assuming they at least kept teaching undergrads), the decision that a production run of anhydrous H2O2 was a good fit for the average college chemistry lab means at least one decision-maker ought to have been encouraged to work where his errors wouldn’t cause dramatic remodelling of university buildings. Chick-Fil-A, perhaps.

          Then again, some of the hi-jinks Derek and some of you other guys have described in college chemistry labs (like the production of anhydrous HCN Derek once described for us) make a serious try at running up some 100% H2O2 sound… no, still a terrible idea unless you’re working at a dedicated facility somewhere on the back forty acres of Los Alamos. Doing the distillation with robots. Controlled from a mile away.

        2. Brady says:

          I don’t think it was Kansas (KU). I went to KSU in the late 80s, and something like that would have definitely been mentioned. If it happened at KSU, it might not have been mentioned as readily, but there weren’t any signs of new stone work on any of the chemistry buildings.

        3. The ACS librarians and I have searched the C&EN archives, and I’ve also pinged some other resources. So far, we haven’t found an incident that matches this description. I did, however, find these:

          From the 1940s/50s: Chemists lose hands from peroxide explosions

          From the 1970s: Chemists move wall with hydrogen peroxide explosion

    2. A Nonny Mouse says:

      I discovered UHP many years ago and used it to make Bis-TMS peroxide and found out that Harry Heaney had also found it for doing other reactions (while drinking champagne at an FRS do).

      I once distilled t-butyl hydrogen peroxide to 100% before health and safety was invented.

  18. DrOcto says:

    I remember being an undergrad. I remember my first months as a PhD student. I look back now and see how woefully ignorant I was regarding incompatible chemicals. Luckily I quickly adopted the appraoch of asking more experienced chemists to comment on preps I was about to try, and if they had handle chemical X before.

    Common sense alone won’t save you, but the following things might help; saftey education, compulsory MDS checks, an awake post-doc, a sensible OH&S comittee, and a large incompatible chemicals chart hanging on the door to your lab.

    I think that it’s great that near misses like this get the publicity they to, might save a life one day.

    1. Mark Thorson says:

      Is a chart really a good idea? You might consult a chart and come away thinking you’ve done an adequate job of assessing potential dangers. There must be apps which would consult a much larger database of interactions than you could ever put in a chart. Even then, I’d think you’d want some kind of AI that could extrapolate from stuff in the database to predict interactions when it’s asked about chemicals that aren’t in the database.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Bretherick’s Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards (current print edition is 7th Ed, from 2006) is, in my opinion, one of the best sources of REAL WORLD information, based, as it is, on real world reports as well as literature and sound theory.

        Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall and not all legitimate research labs can afford to pay for on-line access. I do not have access at this time. Can anyone tell me if the on-line version is continuously updated and actually more up to date than the 2006 publication date?

        Is there a better source of real world hazard info than Bretherick?

  19. Sara says:

    Sounds like the student was doing a Pinnick oxidation in acetone, using H2O2 to clean up the HClO produced (?) Not an uncommon reaction in organic synthesis but unusual solvent. Different scavenger in future perhaps.

    1. ChemQB says:

      How about 2-methyl-2-butene, which is quite common as a scavenger of HClO generated by Pinnick oxidations? I’d rather handle a volatile alkene than an explosive-generating oxidant.

      1. Hap says:

        Isn’t that the standard scavenger? Maybe it coeluted with his product or something, but perhaps there’s another related alkene that wouldn’t?

      2. JH says:

        DMSO as a solvent and a scavenger works fine

  20. Nitrosonium says:

    As a grad student I once came across a very old paper describing an amine-to-nitroso oxidation using 90% H2O2. I considered it briefly but then thought that might not be a good idea.
    I think sodium perborate did the trick without the danger

  21. Anon says:

    Question: How can the airport scanners possibly identify a plastic bottle of acetone and another bottle of hydrogen peroxide if you carry them both on your person, given that our own bodies are 99% water and organics?

    1. Bob Weiss says:

      Low detectability is supposedly one of the “advantages” of TATP for terrorist bombmakers. It doesn’t contain any nitrogen, so it isn’t detected by many explosives “sniffers” that are specifically looking for the nitro groups contained in most explosives.

    2. David Antonini says:

      One would assume that an attentive attendant would identify the shape, the outline of the container, on the scanner, even if a bulge wasn’t identifiable visually. I suppose one might try to carry small amounts, erm, internally, as drugs are sometimes smuggled. I don’t know about anyone else, but I might prefer to smuggle drugs inside me than H2O2 or acetone. Wouldn’t they be likely to dissolve the packaging media? *shudders*

      1. Anon says:

        A flat zip-lock bag of the stuff would be impossible to detect under even a thin shirt.

        1. Ted says:

          Not with the machines I use at LAX

          1. Anon says:

            So what part of the spectrum do they use that could go right through the body and clothing, yet specifically distinguish H2O2 or acetone from everything else?

          2. Ted says:

            Precisely, not sure, that’s above my expertise/paygrade, but I’d expect to see the outline of the bag on the scanner. The ones I use don’t see all the way through the body like the Xray skeleton images you see in the medical field.

      2. Anon says:

        Its one thing to detect the bottles of such chemicals on your person but once found they would be readily determined using spatially offset Raman spectroscopy, little red boxes you’ll see in EU airports,came across one recently in Heathrow – pretty cool stick bottle in, close door – Raman spectrum IDs material independent of bottle composition

  22. Anonymous says:

    When I was a kid living on a Canadian farm in the late 2000s, I found an old 2L can of ether starting fluid in the old barn. (The can it came in was metal, not plastic, to give you an idea of how old this stuff was)

    Anyways i knew the stuff was flammable, and being a 15 year old kid with more intrigue than sense (or knowledge of what is and isn’t bad for the environment) it seemed like a good idea to throw the can in the old dry dugout, light a fire beside it and shoot it with the 30-30. All young dudes love fireballs.

    Well, 60 years of oxidation definately didn’t help this ether with it’s attitude problem, and until i was in my 2nd year of chemistry at university I never really knew why that can blew sky high with much less flaming pretty deflagratrion i was expecting. There must have been more than half a kilo of the stuff. But frankly, i didn’t care, I was just happy to have not been killed by shrapnel to really care.

    I am still in awe that it didn’t grenade me when I turned that crusty, corroded metal lid off to look in at the litre of massive diethyl ether peroxide crystals, or when i chucked the thing 10 feet down into the dugout.

    Moral of the story, sometimes a well trained person can make a simple but dangerous mistake like that poor grad student, but nothing can compare to the danger someone who is completely clueless with what they’re working with or any associated risk, which is why lab safety procedures have to be enforced extremely thoroughly.

    I told a prof of mine (also the head of our lab safety committee) and i swear i almost gave him an aneurism.

  23. UudonRock says:

    I have actually synthesized this substance in the past along with a number of “fun” substances like nitro cellulose and nitrogen triiodide (both significantly safer than TATP). It is unfortunately a simple process. Makes an extremely pleasant sheet of fire when spread out finely in a line. Compacted it is a very powerful explosive as one disintegrated apple would attest if it were not ethereal now. This is something I would not teach anyone then or now. In my foolhardy youth it seemed fine if I was controlled and used high quality reagents. In retrospect I’m lucky I didn’t blow little pieces of myself around the lab. I personally never produced more than 1 gram of TATP. I can’t even imagine the horror of accidently manufacturing 40g…

    1. milo says:

      first of all nitrogen triiodide is not safer than tatp… you can blow it up with a feather, tatp require a slightly stronger shock to blast (i mean you need an hammer) and second you must do it intentionally to produce 40 grams of TATP… you need more than 50 ml of H2O2, is very unlikely to appen accidentaly

  24. SP says:

    Think I mentioned this here before- I saw a talk at MIT by Sharpless several years ago, he said when he was developing oxidations at Stanford he needed some high grade H2O2. So he drove up to JPL and got a bottle of >90% (I think he said 99%, is that possible?) and, realizing it was somewhat sensitive, he held it between his legs to keep it safe while driving back to his lab.

    1. Mark Thorson says:

      Stanford is nowhere near JPL. You must be thinking of Caltech.

  25. Anonymous says:

    My colleague had synthesized a few grams in his home lab back in the high school, and accidentally detonated it… He got a manicure (of Davos Seaworth type).

  26. talchemist says:

    Never in all my years have I worked up an oxidation by adding an oxidizing reagent…just goes against chemical common sense. Glad to hear this story had a happy ending, but scary reading that the PI signed off on this strange protocol…

  27. Scott says:

    Gotta admit, I probably wouldn’t blink at making TATP intentionally (at least in single-gram quantities).

    Making TATP accidentally, however, I think I’d be puckered so tight I wouldn’t be able to detach from the seat for a while. Once I did manage to unstick myself from the seat, I think I’d need to go lay down for a while, if only to give my long-suffering guardian angel some well-deserved time off for not allowing that oops to scatter me around the room!

  28. Paul Pibworth says:

    When I was a teenager (1959) I tried to make nitro-glcerine in the cellar. Grandma got hit me he conch nitric acid. Glycerol is common stuff. Fortunately, I did not know that conic sulphuric acid was also needed.

  29. Paul Pibworth says:

    When I was a teenager (1959) I tried to make nitro-glycerine in the cellar. Grandma got me the conc nitric acid. Glycerol is common stuff. Fortunately, I did not know that conc sulphuric acid was also needed. (Predictive text is a curse)

  30. Tom Sullivan says:

    Surely the bomb squad did a controlled explosion and not a controlled demolition?

  31. emc says:

    @Paul Pibworth, a high school friend tried the same thing, with the same lack of sulfuric acid and success. Last I knew, he still had a full set of digits.

    He made gunpowder with more success.

  32. Michael Ney says:

    I remember my chemistry master (1966) telling us of an accident when he was at University where someone in one lab had used acetone as a wash and flushed it down the drain. It got into the main interceptor chamber underground. Someone in another lab had been working with metallic sodium in oil and flushed the residues down the drain. In the warmth, the acetone vapourised and reached LEL in the chamber and in came the sodium, by which time the oil had stripped off. It is saidthat at least one of the 600 x 900 cast iron manhole covers came up the 2nd floor (UK) (3rd floor US) windows before falling back to earth. People in the quad below had a brown-trouser experience.

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