Alfred Nobel (1833–1896)
Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833.
He is best remembered for the legacy he left to honour progress in science and peace – the Nobel prize.
But ironically, he was also the inventor of dynamite.
Until 1846, black gunpowder was the only explosive available.
Ascanio Sobrero (1812–1888)
Then a young Italian chemist – Ascanio Sobrero – invented a far more powerful, but uncontrollable explosive – nitroglycerine.
It was a highly volatile liquid and any change in pressure could set it off.
This made it too unpredictable to have any practical use.
As a young man, Alfred Nobel was encouraged by his father, Immanuel Nobel, to follow in his footsteps as an engineer.
After studying, Alfred travelled the world and it was in Paris that he met Sobrero and his explosive liquid.
Nobel's interest was sparked, and he wondered if he could adapt this new explosive for construction work.
But first Nobel had to make it safer and more controllable.
He worked out that mixing the volatile liquid nitroglycerine and the absorbent mineral produced a gel-like paste, which made it more stable.
He patented this material in 1867, under the name of dynamite.
Dynamite – invented 1867
As a paste, dynamite could be formed to fit into drilling holes and took on its iconic shape as a long tubular stick.
Nobel then invented a detonator for the dynamite, so the explosion could be set off from a safe distance.
Now in everyday use, he dramatically reduced the cost of blasting rock, drilling tunnels and building canals.
Nobel was also interested in social and peace issues.
Not wanting to be remembered only for the destructive power of dynamite, he changed his will to set up an endowment fund in his name.
From 1901 to the present day, Nobel's ultimate legacy has honoured outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace building.