West Point Chemist Measures Might Of Medieval Gunpowder

Nov. 10, 2021
Chemist and her colleagues study how Middle Age gunpowder recipes perform.

How much oomph did those medieval cannonballs really have? A chemist and her colleagues from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. used some downtime during the early days of the pandemic last year to measure the might of gunpowder recipes from the Middle Ages, according to an article from The New York Times. Their findings appeared recently in Omega, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Dawn E. Rieger is a tenured professor of chemistry at the elite college who more often researches better detection of explosives and chemical warfare agents, according to the article. Empty classrooms during the pandemic afforded her the opportunity to study nearly two dozen gunpowder recipes used by medieval gunners between 1338 and 1460. Riegner and her daughter, Kathleen, a student of chemical engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology, operated as a two-person “family pod,” conducting their research at West Point’s laboratory and firing ranges. Medieval gunpowder reportedly used sulfur, carbon and saltpeter, as well as more unusual ingredients such as brandy, camphor and quicklime, varnish and vinegar.

Read the entire article here.