An explosive sometimes used by terrorists does not burn when it detonates. Instead, its molecules simply fall apart. The chemist who has discovered this is so concerned by its implications that he has decided to abandon this line of research.

Triacetone triperoxide (TATP) has been used by suicide bombers in Israel and was chosen as a detonator in 2001 by the thwarted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. Now calculations by Ehud Keinan from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa show that most of its explosive force comes from a rapid release of gas rather than a burst of energy.



In conventional high explosives such as TNT, each molecule contains both a fuel component and an oxidising component. When the explosive detonates, the fuel part is oxidised and as this combustion reaction spreads it releases large amounts of heat almost instantaneously.



TATP molecules are made up of fragments that could react in a similar way. But Keinan says that videos showing samples of TATP being detonated show that it can do so without producing any flame.



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