a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


A world class chemistry department


Cradling nitroglycerine
Norman Greenwood Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

You might be amused at a little anecdote that came to mind talking of Abe, and nitroglycerine. My job was to prepare the bullets, the things that we'd bang together, and then we would fit these into drop hammers and they would drop down and you'd get an explosion. And the device, a very smart idea for following the explosion, which I needn't go into now, but my job was to electroplate the brass bullets with lead so that you get a soft surface, and then to clear it off afterwards, decontaminate them by degreasing them and prepare for the next experiment. So I became, actually, an expert in photography because I had to photograph the results of the explosions and the blast patterns with side lighting and things like that. So another part of my job was, when we ran out of nitroglycerine, to go to the Munitions SupplyLlaboratory at Maribyrnong, which I suppose was about three miles away, and the way we transported... Do you know what gutta-percha is?

[Q] Yes, I do.

It's a sort of hardened rubber, before plastics came in. This had the advantage... nitroglycerine, as I said, is very explosive. If you have it in a glass or a metal bottle and you turn it it'll explode, but with gutta-percha it was soft enough not to explode. So my instruction was take this 200ml flask, go to Maribrynong, get it filled up with nitroglycerine and you sit in the back of the car cradling it in your lap. Now I don't have to tell you, if there'd been a traffic accident or if they'd stopped and I'd dropped it, quite a hole in the North Melbourne would have been formed, but that was safety during the war I suppose. But, fortunately, nothing like that ever happened.

[Q] You're a lucky man Norman because, you know...

Science wouldn't have been the same.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: Maribyrnong, Mebourne, WWII, Abe Yoffe

Duration: 2 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011