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Explosive Tylenol?

Don’t worry, your medicine cabinet is safe
April 1, 2016
A photograph of an explosives display and the Lab's Crystal Lab at the Bradbury Science Museum.

A photograph of an explosives display and the Lab's Crystal Lab at the Bradbury Science Museum.

Lab scientists can use the crystals from acetaminophen (the generic version of Tylenol) to help better understand the structure of explosives.
A nurse asked for more information about explosive Tylenol™. I had not read that display in its entirety, so I took a trip downstairs to look at this exhibit.

The photo shows explosives researcher, post-doc John Yeager, indeed examining a Tylenol crystal. Tylenol, the medication (also known as acetaminophen), has a crystalline structure similar to the structure of many crystalline high explosives, but is not itself explosive. Scientists at Los Alamos who study explosives can substitute Tylenol for safety reasons in some experiments. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I had no idea.


On the other hand, Alfred Nobel (the inventor of dynamite) suffered from terrible headaches possibly brought about by his contact with nitroglycerine1, and he died of heart disease2. His nitroglycerine is the same nitroglycerine used as heart medicine today.

                                          Gordon Mcdonough, Museum science evangelist