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Nitrocellulose (aka cellulose nitrate, flash paper, flash cotton, flash string) is a highly flammable material formed by through the nitration of cellulose. This process is most commonly performed using nitric acid, but can accomplished with any strong nitrating agent.


Nitrocellulose has been used for a wide variety of purposes since its discovery including:

  • Plasticized nitrocellulose was originally used as film is the Motion Picture and Medical X-ray field, but was replaced due to its inherent instability.[1]
  • Magicians use sheets or strings of nitrocellulose (known as flash paper and flash string, respectively) to produce brief, intensely bright flashes of flame.
  • May be used as a low-order explosive or propellant, typically known as "gun cotton" in these applications.
  • The earliest form of smokeless powder was created in 1884 by French chemist Paul Vieille.