Ask your 16–18 students to take a closer look at ammonium nitrate and enthalpy

A photo of reddish-brown smoke rising above a city

Source: © Janine Haidar/AFP/Getty Images

The telltale reddish brown cloud indicates that the usually stable ammonium nitrate exploded. Challenge your students to find out why

On the evening of 4 August 2020, a fire at a hangar containing ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut saw a team of fire fighters dispatched to the scene. This seemingly routine call-out spiralled, resulting in a gigantic explosion, causing devastation for miles around. When stored safely, solid ammonium nitrate pellets are stable so how did they come to explode?

This devastating event provides context for your students to explore the structural formula of compounds and the enthalpy of the bonds within those compounds. Students aged 16–18 should already be familiar with the mechanisms of a decomposition reaction but they may not have made the connection between their classroom learning and this news story. 

In the worksheet, students will apply mathematical skills to problems to make sense of the observable phenomena of explosions which will encourage them to consider the chemistry around them every day. 

Use this worksheet alongside the Education in Chemistry article, Shockwaves in Beirut