Boom! It Went Off!

Ka_BoomLast week, millions of TV viewers nationwide watched  for about 17 hours one of the most stunning  live TV transmissions in Indonesian television’s history about operation of capturing terrorists. The terrorist who defended inside the shack was believed to be Indonesia’s most wanted earthling: Noordin M. Top. When the operation was up, the thought of Top being killed was in the air. But soon through the later DNA identification revealed that the dead terrorist was not Top. Of course it should not play down the efforts of the police to foil terrorism because whatever the result ended in we have to keep encouraging the force to thwart terrorism and I believe most of Indonesians still have one voice in unison that  the top-rank terrorist Top must be captured dead or better alive.

Through this article I will not take you to discuss the action-packed (is it?) operation, in that I’m not interested. Instead I’m gonna bring you to see how a chemical reaction occurs in explosion. While making a bomb requires a trained person and a dab hand at it (which definitely I am not), to understand the chemical reaction in explosion does not call for rocket scientists! Ok without anymore beating about the bush, let’s find out the lowdown on the chemical reaction in explosion.

Explosions occur when a chemical reaction takes place rapidly and with a considerable increase in volume. They often involve compounds rich in nitrogen such as nitroglycerine, trinitrotoluene (TNT) and  ammonium nitrate (Yes! You are right! Ammonium nitrate is a common fertilizer!) These compounds can decompose readily, yielding nitrogen gas as one of the products. Explosive mixtures are used for a wide variety of projects ranging from earthmoving, building demolition to making bombs. Vehicles loaded with ammonium nitrate, vests stuffed with the explosives to be worn by suicide bombers  or luggage loaded with the explosives (the two last options are more common in Indonesia) have been used in terrorist attacks worldwide. The compound, ammonium nitrate, mixed with fuel oil and it is dubbed ANFO (ammonium nitrate-fuel oil) is an explosive with enormous destructive power.

The chemical reaction taking place in explosion are usually the result of redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions.  The ammonium nitrate is both reduced and oxidised with ammonium ion acts as the reducing agent whereas nitrate ion acts as the oxidising agent. (Recall your high school chemistry class! :mrgreen: ) The fuel oil provides additional oxidisable material. Now let’s take a look how the chemical reaction occurs in a simple chemical reaction. The fuel oil is usually a long carbon chained alkane or cycloalkane:

52 NH4NO3 (s) + C17H36 (l)  ————-> 52 N2 (g) + 17 CO2 (g) + 122 H20 (g)

The reaction starts with 53 mol of materials, most of it solid and liquid, in the end it yields 191 mol of products, all gases! A reaction of solid and/or liquid reactants that generates gaseous products involves a huge volume increase. This enormous volume increase that yields the explosion with flash and very loud boom which are characteristic of the explosion. The volume increase also gives rise to a shockwave travelling at an enormous speed of up to 9000 metres per second with monstrous pressure of up to 700,000 atmospheres.

So why ammonium nitrate?? It is because a common fertilizer, and fuel oil is also common and it is not hard to find one. The fact that both these materials are so accessible to potential terrorists is cause for serious concern. The compound that nourishes plants and cash crops can massively kill people and devastate physical structures in the face of terrorism!

18 responses to “Boom! It Went Off!

  1. walah kok bahasa linggis sih pak

  2. kaaaa…..boommmm

    nice post….

    aduh…. jadi takut ma bahan2 kimia

  3. Salam Cinta Damai dan Kasih Sayang ‘tuk Sahabatku terchayaaaaaank
    I Love U fulllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

  4. waaah sekarang jadi pembuat bom yaaaa

  5. kelimaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaxxxxxxxxxxxxzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  6. i guess this is dangerous posting 😀

    Terrorist wannabe can use it for reaching his ambition

    Maaf belepotan. Bagus juga nih buat belajar bahasa Inggris.

  7. Yang perlu disadarkan adalah penduduk, dan penjual bahan kimia harus mencatat siapa yang membeli barang dalam volume banyak. Saya jadi ingat cerita detektif, kalau di negara maju, pembelian bahan kimia ada catatannya ya…seperti orang menanyakan alamat dan nomor telepon kita (walau mungkin tak di cek kebenarannya) saat selesai membeli obat resep dokter.

    Jadi, sekarang mesti buka mata dan telinga terus menerus.

  8. Nice post, interesting! Although I almost skip a paragraf about redox, hahaha.. This article is sooo “Pak Yari”. (Why on earth do I have to read chemistry in this beautiful holiday morning?? :p) But i like the way you analyze (and tell us) about the chemical reaction of a bomb. Hmm, so thats why it can explode (=>enermous volume increase)..

  9. @didta

    Maunya bahasa apa?? Bahasa Tarzan?? :mrgreen:


    Tidak perlu takut berlebihan…. toh di sekeliling kita, kita sudah dikepung oleh bahan2 kimia, mulai dari pakaian kita hingga rumah kita, tidak ada satupun yang terlepas dari bahan2 kimia…


    Huehehe… kalo kangBoed bukan tukang buat bom tapi tukang kas bon ya?? :mrgreen:


    It doesn’t teach anything on making a bomb. It only explains how a possible chemical reaction occurs in the explosion…


    Nah… ini dia bu masalahnya kalau tidak dicek kembali, hampir sama aja boong, soalnya sekarang bikin ID palsu gampang sekali… Apalagi kalau teroris pasti dia akan pakai ID palsu.


    Hey… it is not Sunday morning, it is Monday morning. It is a holiday so it feels like Sunday morning. Huehehe… Yes, an explosion (not the explosion based on nuclear reaction) is caused by a sudden huge volume increase….. 😀

  10. I am amazed how you describe chemical reaction of a bomb.

  11. me either, the story of chemical reaction it makes me feel on different world. hard to understand gitu lho…

  12. Nice bomb-making tutorial! :mrgreen:
    Oh, sir, do not forget to add a handful of bolts around your bomb to boost its destructive power. 😈

    *waiting for next post about set-up detonator into the bomb*

  13. BOM BOM…, dari kecil sudah kenal maen petasan (BOM ecek ecek) kali yak…….

  14. this posting is explaining what happen during the bomb explode based on chemistry law (reduction-oxidation). although its real on chemistry law, its not easy to make a bomb, need more research to make it explode, how to assembly all part. (or you will post it next time, won’t you ? 😀 )

  15. very clever is you… hehehe. I don’t understand yet. still study electron and proton with neutron. yeah~ that’s enough?

  16. this shows how a simple ingredient can be both good and bad in use depends on the person who employs it. isn’t every drug also a poison? hard to find one which is not. so is with the so-called explosive agent.

    well done, mas. it’s very you.

  17. @tikno

    Perhaps it would more amaze people if there is a simple animation that could help make things clearer! 😀


    Which part do you not understand?? The part on why people make bombs to kill others?? 😦


    Unfortunately, bolts are not parts which are taught in chemistry class! Huehehe…

    @adipati kademangan

    Yes… that’s why in the second paragraph I explained that to make bombs requires a well trained person or a dab hand…. 😀

    No, there will be no sequels to this article…. :mrgreen:


    The only one who knows when enough is enough for you is yourself! Don’t ask me about that! 🙂




    Huehehe…. yes it’s very true. Even water (the most abundant compound of our body) can be deadly when an electric current runs through it and it can fry people! 😀

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