Nitrocellulose

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  • Nitrocellulose (also: cellulose nitrate, flash paper) is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. When used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it is also known as guncotton.
  • Nitrocellulose plasticized by camphor was used by Kodak, and other suppliers, from the late 1880s as a film base in photograph, X-ray films and motion picture films; and was known as nitrate film. After numerous fires caused by unstable nitrate films, safety film started to be used from the 1930s in the case of X-ray stock and from 1948 for motion picture film.
  • The use of nitrocellulose film for motion pictures led to the requirement for fireproof projection rooms with wall coverings made of asbestos. The US Navy shot a training film for projectionists that included footage of a controlled ignition of a reel of nitrate film, which continued to burn when fully submerged in water.
  • Unlike many other flammable materials, nitrocellulose does not need air to keep burning as the reaction produces oxygen. Once burning, it is extremely difficult to extinguish. Cellulose is treated with sulfuric acid and potassium nitrate to give cellulose mononitrate. This was used commercially as Celluloid, a highly flammable plastic used in the first half of the 20th Century for lacquers and photographic film.
  • A nitrocellulose slide, nitrocellulose membrane or nitrocellulose paper is a sticky membrane used for immobilizing nucleic acids in Southern blots and northern blots. It is also used for immobilization of proteins in Western blots and Atomic Force Microscopy for its non-specific affinity for amino acids.
  • Nitrocellulose is widely used as support in diagnostic tests where antigen-antibody binding occur, e.g., pregnancy tests, U-Albumin tests and CRP. Glycine and chloride ions make protein transfer more efficient. Nitrocellulose lacquer is also used as an aircraft dope, painted onto fabric-covered aircraft to tauten and provide protection to the material.
  • Nitrocellulose is produced by causing cellulose to react with nitrating acid (a mixture of nitric acid and sulfuric acid). Following complex washing and stabilizing stages, damping agents (alcohols or water) or plasticizers are added to the nitrocellulose which is then marketed as Walsroder Nitrocellulose or Walsroder NC-Chips.

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