Segments in this Video

Introduction: Gunpowder: Quirky Science (00:47)


We will find out how an ancient Chinese culinary moment ended with a bang and changed the world.

Gunpowder Origin Myths (01:43)

There are different stories of gunpowder's invention. It was probably an accident. Some say ancient Chinese alchemists created it, others that it was a cooking accident.

Gunpowder Ingredients (01:18)

Gunpowder is made by mixing sulfur, charcoal, and salt peter, found on decayed manure.

Europeans, Gun Powder and Poop (02:38)

Despite Chinese attempts to keep the technology secret, it spread along the Silk Road to Europe. To get salt peter, rulers in Europe sent people around to collect poop.

Sources of Salt Peter (01:07)

During the Civil War, women were asked to preserve urine for its salt peter to go into gunpowder. Today, salt peter is made from nitric acid.

Why Gunpowder Explodes (01:35)

When gunpowder burns, it releases gases that have bigger volume than the original powder, releasing energy which creates an explosion and air-waves which make the loud sound.

Chemistry and Firework Artistry (02:11)

Gunpowder is used in fireworks. The earliest Chinese fireworks were used to scare evil spirits. Controlling the speed of burning and proportion of ingredients allows creation of variety of fireworks.

Fireworks Through History (02:40)

Fireworks only burned white or orange until 1830, when Italians created additional colors. Italian fascination with fireworks dates to Marco Polo, and fireworks played a part in the Italian Renaissance.

Gunpowder as Weapon (01:59)

The Chinese shot arrows with gunpowder attached. Using bamboo sticks, bows and arrows, and gunpowder, they used the first rockets.

Chinese Fire Arrows (01:36)

The firing of Chinese-style gunpowder rockets is demonstrated. According to myth, a Chinese emperor tried to use these to fly.

Early Military Applications of Gunpowder (01:34)

The Chinese invented the hull to enable rocket propulsion, and invented rocket launchers. The first firearms were and cannons using powder to propel cannonballs.

Gunpowder Changes Warfare (01:33)

Gunpowder created a military revolution, forcing changes in shape and structure of defensive walls. Shells forced defenders out of cities altogether, moving warfare to trenches.

Smokeless Powder (02:46)

Black powder gave off smoke, obstructing the view of the firer. Alfred Nobel invented smokeless powder, with gaseous ingredients, which allowed more energy to go into the explosion rather than creation of smoke.

Summary of Gunpowder History (00:30)

The invention of gunpowder is shrouded in myth. It works by the creation of rapidly expanding gases, producing a "bang!"

Credits: Gunpowder: Quirky Science (00:45)

Credits: Gunpowder: Quirky Science

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Gunpowder: Quirky Science

Part of the Series : Quirky Science
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $99.95
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3-Year Streaming Price: $99.95



Few substances in history have had as profound an effect on mankind as gunpowder. And yet its discovery was probably an accident—a big bang, for one. This program examines the invention and history of gunpowder, as well as its surprising ingredients. As you can imagine, making gunpowder takes some effort. Gunpowder once needed saltpeter, and saltpeter needed poop. It turns out that secretions have such an explosive character due to microscopic bacteria, which produce the nitrates as byproducts of digestion. How did the man who founded the Nobel Peace Prize revolutionize gunpowder? And is gunpowder about to be replaced? Part of the series Quirky Science. (25 minutes)

Length: 25 minutes

Item#: BVL50336

ISBN: 978-1-62290-694-9

Copyright date: ©2011

Closed Captioned

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Prices include public performance rights.

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Only available in USA and Canada.