This has always bugged me. In AC/DC’s song TNT there’s a line:

“I’m T-N-T, I’m Dynamite!”

But TNT is definitely not Dynamite! I can hear you say now “…but they both explode right?” Yes they both explode. Here’s TNT exploding (used to simulate the effects of an atomic blast in this video):

The Difference

While TNT and Dynamite are typically used interchangeably, they are not the same. TNT is an abbreviation for a specific compound, trinitrotoluene, and is shown below. Dynamite, on the other hand, is just our old friend nitroglycerin which has been ‘stabilized’ in a cylinder of clay. I put stabilized in quotes because nitroglycerin is still extremely shock sensitive as we saw in a previous week. If you’ve watched the first season of LOST then you know what I’m talking about. TNT on the other hand is not shock sensitive. It does still detonate, but it will not self detonate if you accidentally drop it or bump it – which makes it much much safer to use!

Trinitrotoluene. Note the similarities to nitroglycerin in the number of nitro groups.

It’s widespread use has made it the standard of explosive power. It is less sensitive to shock because it has a high activation energy barrier to detonation, whereas nitroglycerin has a low barrier. That’s why you can bump nitroglycerin to get it to detonate, but you need something more substantive to get TNT to detonate.

Well I hope I have cleared up a common misconception. So if you’re ever in doubt if you have TNT or nitroglycerin on your hands, just drop it and see what happens. If it explodes, probably nitroglycern. If not, probably TNT (actually I recommend not dropping either of them, probably safer). Have a good Friday!

2 responses »

  1. Pearl says:

    So…does anyone actually use dynamite? TNT seems preferable.

    • Paul Vallett says:

      Yeah I’m pretty sure nobody uses Dynamite anymore. TNT is so stable that it wasn’t listed as an explosive compound when it was first developed. Actually they were using it as a nice yellow dye before anyone knew it could be an explosive…

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