Nitric Acid history can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages when it was made from a mixture of Saltpeter and sand which was then distilled by a hot fire.
The gas cooled and condensed, producing the liquid known as Aqua Fortis or Nitric Acid. The chemical formula for this material is HNO3. It was an important substance for alchemists as it was used to dissolve silver and many other metals, with the exceptions of gold and platinum. These latter two could only be dissolved by using Aqua Regia. The word 'Aqua Fortis' translates as 'strong water' which refers to the water content of the original solution.
The chemicals history can be traced back to the time when it was first synthesised at around 800 AD by the famous alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan whom many consider to have been the 'father' of chemistry. He is also commonly known as 'Geber' which is the Latin form of 'Jabir'. He is believed to have been the first alchemist and was also a known astronomer, engineer and geologist, as well as a philosopher. He is credited with the discovery of Sulphuric Acid and his further practical experiments resulted in the discovery of Hydrochloric Acid and Nitric Acid. In this way, he invented Aqua Regia, which is one of the few substances that can dissolve gold.
Hydrogen Nitrate - Anhydrous Nitric Acid
The acid is an acquaeous solution of Hydrogen Nitrate (Anhydrous Nitric Acid). If the concentration of the solution is greater than 86%, it is known as Fuming Nitric Acid. It will produce white fumes or red fumes depending on the amount of Nitrogen Dioxide present. Synonyms for Nitric Acid are Aqua Fortis and Spirit of Nitre, while the chemical formulation of Nitric Acid is HNO3.
Today, HNO3 is one of the mostly widely used mineral acids in industry, a particularly significant use being in the production of fertilizer. Nitric Acid is also used in the prodcution of explosives such as TNT (tri-Nitro Toluene) and also in the purification of metals.
In the laboratory, Nitric Acid can be mixed with Hydrochloric Acid to produce Aqua Regia, which is an ancient solution going back in Nitric Acid history to medieval times. Aqua Regia is one of the few solutions which is able to dissolve gold and platinum. The literal translation of the Latin name Aqua Regia is 'Royal Water' or 'King's Water', so called because the metals gold and platinum were known as the 'royal' or 'kings' metals.
Strict legislation governs the manufacture, handling, packaging, labelling and transport of Nitric Acid and full details of all these aspect can be found on the relevant pages of this website.