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What is Picric Acid?

Picric acid is a yellowish crystalline solid compound. It is used in high explosive, rocket fuels, matches and leather processing, dyes, as a laboratory reagent for serum creatinine analysis in humans and experimental animals, and as an oxidant for other laboratory uses, metal etching, batteries, textiles. Picric acid can be defined as an organic compound with the formula (O2N)3C6H2OH and the IUPAC name of this acid is 3C6 2,4,6-trinitrophenol (TNP). Because of its bitter taste, the name “picric” comes from the Greek word (pikros) meaning “bitter”. In 1771, an English chemist named Peter Wulfe developed picric acid by treating indigo with nitric acid. Beginning in 1849, picric acid was originally used as a yellow dye for silk, as its color was yellow.

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Use of Picric Acid

In the 1920s and 30s, picric acid was commonly used as an antiseptic dressing for burn wounds, either alone or in combination with butyl aminobenzoate. Approximately 4% of patients treated with picric acid developed sensitization local dermatitis following topical application of picric acid, and at least one case of severe central nervous system dysfunction occurred. Picric acid is not directly sensitized, but becomes sensitized after conversion to a more reactive compound.
Modern armor-piercing projectiles use ammonium picrate, one of the salts of picric acid, because it is insensitive enough to tolerate powerful piercing shock before detonating. Picric acid is both antibacterial and astringent. In medical practice, it is used as a surface anesthetic ointment or solution as well as burn ointments. Picric acid is a much stronger acid than phenol, which can decompose carbonates and titrate with bases. Lead acetate forms a vibrant yellow precipitate, lead picrate, in basic environments.
Among all Phenols, Picric Acid is known to have the highest acidity. It may explode when percussive or rapid heating is applied to it (or its salts containing heavy metals such as copper, silver or lead).

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Picric Acid History

In 1771, an English scientist named Peter Wulfe created picric acid by mixing indigo with nitric acid. Beginning in 1849, it was originally used as a yellow dye for silk. Picric acid was once highly valued as an explosive and was first used as a projectile detonating charge by the French in 1886 under the name melinite. Picric acid was the most widely used military explosive during the Russo-Japanese War. The very abrasive effect of the projectiles on metal surfaces was a disadvantage, and its use declined after the First World War.
Picric acid, also known as 2,4,6-trinitrophenol (chemical name for picric acid), is a pale yellow and odorless crystalline solid used as a military explosive and antiseptic. Picric acid was named by the 19th century French chemist Jean-Baptiste-André Dumas for the extremely bitter taste of its yellow aqueous solution. It (or its salts containing heavy metals such as copper, silver or lead) explodes when subjected to impact or rapid heating.