March 24, 2009

Water found to be a catalyst in explosives

U.S. government scientists say they've shown that water in hot dense environments acts as a catalyst, speeding chemical reactions without being consumed.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists said although the properties of pure water at high pressures and temperatures have long been studied, water in a reactive environment had never been researched.

Lead scientist Christine Wu said she and her team studied the detonation of the high explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate and discovered that in water, when one hydrogen atom serves as a reducer and the hydroxide serves as an oxidizer, the atoms act as a dynamic team that transports oxygen between reaction centers.

This was news to us, said Wu. This suggests water also may catalyze reactions in other explosives and in planetary interiors.

She said the finding is contrary to the current view that water is a stable detonation product.

The research is detailed in the April premier issue of the journal Nature Chemistry.