back to article Boffins 'cage the demon' of white phosphorus

Cambridge boffins have discovered a crafty molecular "cage" which can be used to imprison the "demon" chemical, white phosphorus, famous for burning inextinguishably and for its sometimes questionable military uses. Cleanup and transport of white phosphorus should now become much simpler and safer. Phosphorus, as the Cambridge …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Tony La Russa

    UK PLC

    The sciences, engineering and maths (& maybe a few more if I'm being generous) need to be hard, unforgiving disciplines because there's not much room for wolly thinking.

    With the kind of imbecilic tinkering and "dumbing down" that's going on within academia and particularly the sciences from GCSE ("double" award science GCSE, anyone?) right up to BSc (multiple Chemistry departments shut down in recent years) one has to ask how much longer the UK will be able to carry out this kind of research.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bit late

    for the poor souls in Iraq we shot phosphorous at!

  3. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Willie Peter alledgedly better than frag in cases.

    "....Though WP isn't designed or intended as an anti-personnel weapon - you would normally be able to inflict more casualties using the same weight of regular blast/frag rounds - it has shocking and nasty effects if purposely or accidentally used as such....."

    Paras during the Falklands said that the boggy ground limited the impact of L2 fragmentation grenades, and WP meant for smokescreens was found to be much better for clearing Argentinean trenchs. Of course, that's all under alledgedly, due to those hilarious UN articles that somehow think it is somehow less horrible to be burnt to death rather than bleeding to death after your body has been shredded by shrapnel.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    RE: UK PLC

    Tony La Russa wrote: "one has to ask how much longer the UK will be able to carry out this kind of research."

    My guess is for just as long as they are able to sell WMD to the highest bidder.

  5. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    anti-personnel use

    The US Army at least used WP lavishly in WW II and thereafter.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    " horrible to be burnt to death rather than bleeding to death after your body has been shredded by shrapnel"

    The issue is not the injury itself, but the aftermath.

    If a bom goes of slices a small gash into your leg. That's it. You have a chance of stemming the bleeding, stiching it up etc etc.

    If the WP hits the same area, it will burn the skin to the bone and keep burning until it runs out. You have no way of stopping the damage continuing for quite some time. Thereforewhat was a minor injury becomes a massive one.

    A similar thing was seen in Vietnam when they used "deforestation" techniques, which gave horendous burns (there is a very famous pic of a child with these injuries out there)

  7. John Stirling

    research has to ask how much longer the UK will be able to carry out this kind of research....

    Oh, for ages, just not with any home grown talent.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Cambridge stinks ??

    Is that because of all that phosphorus burning there?

  9. Bumpy Cat

    @Stu Reeves

    The girl in question was hit by a napalm strike at a village, rather than any special deforestation stuff (which tended to be straight carcinogenic pesticides anyway, not weapons).

    The exact definition of "legal" weapons is hard to pin down, since things like hollow-point bullets or tear gas skirt the line. For some people, WP is a chemical weapon, and so prohibited; for others it's an incendiary weapon, and so legal. Generally it's only used for smoke these days anyway.

    Is anyone else worried by the "release phosphorous from the cage by the application of stupidly flammable benzene" idea?

  10. The First Dave


    For future reference, can we please have a list of the military endeavours that Lewis has NOT been involved in? Clearly a much shorter list than what he _has_ done.

  11. Steve Foster

    Japery in the Armed Forces

    "...have been known to move a piece of ordnance up or down the beach to the other side of the high-tide line..."

    Oh my, what high-jinks. What other jolly japery do our lads and lasses in the armed forces get up to?

  12. Joel


    "It seems that one can combine formyl-pyridine and diaminobiphenyl disulfonate with iron to form a molecular tetrahedron with a central void space in its middle"

    Oh of course! Now why didn't I think of that?

  13. Anonymous Coward


    "The reaction of O2 with P4 would proceed through a transition state too large for the cage's cavity."

    It's basically an improved Davy lamp, then?

  14. Tr0n

    How lazy do you have to be!?

    Wait a minute.. they go all the way out there, have to move the blooming thing (which is dangerous enough) and then ring up the other team to get rid of it.

    .. Wouldn't the faster method be, just to blow the f-ing thing up?

    Surely it doesn't take THAT long to dump explosives on it and then remote detonate it?

  15. Joe Zeff


    Just for the record, the compound they're describing is properly called a clathrate. They've been known and studied for well over a century now, and have a number of uses. I once looked at the list of ingredients for an inhaler, and learned that the medium tended to form a clathrate with the medicine and deliver it that way, breaking down in your lungs and releasing it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    accidentally used as projectiles?

    don't the Americans coat their bullets in the stuff just to make them look good when they're shooting people at night?

  17. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Willie Peter

    Being a bit of a pyro, and one time licensed fireworks manufacturer, i have never seen an explosion as beautiful as a WP grenade. Bright pink stars with billowing smoke trails.

    Zeke Note: If you take the amount of phosphorus in the human body, and compare it to the amount of phosphorus on Earth, you will find it to be the rarest of the essential elements.

    Phosphoric Acid is the ingredient in carbonated drinks that etches the enamel on your teeth so that it is impossible to thoroughly remove tooth decay germs.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Don't get me started

    The Israelis use this stuff.

    If this stuff is "caged" is it easy to let out of the cage?

  19. nbc

    Oh really Lewis?

    Rumour my arse.

    " It is rumoured that teams from both services, faced with a tiresome or inconveniently-timed task, have been known to move a piece of ordnance up or down the beach to the other side of the high-tide line in order to hand the problem off to someone else."

  20. rick buck

    DeForestation, Carcinogenic Chemicals, & AGENT ORANGE

    Napalm usually kills, if your compromised (Shock)

    It just kind of sticks to's used to destroy things.

    Buildings, crops, contraband.

    Agent Orange, if it does'nt kill you,

    disfigures and burnsd the flesh,

    with sunlight, abrasion (bathing),

    & oosing sores a painful daily reminder,

    that your still alive. Lucky: Sure.

    White Phosphorus is used

    as a tracer in flairs, bullets, rockets,...

    if it blows up...Phoshhorus makes it better.

    More observable/confirmable results,

    for the operator in aiming, conserving ammo, & getting results.

    Using WP,

    or Any type of Phosphorus, ...

    or for that matter any kind of




    or Toxic substance,

    used on others should always be a crime.

    And we use Phosphor bullets at night,

    so we can see where we are shooting, ...

    and to eliminate any friendly fire incidents.

    What I'd be worried about is the DU.

    Depleted Uranium Bullets, RPGs, most breach loaded weapons/projectiles up to the size of ICBMS incorporate a penetrater dome, coating or may be solid DU.

    The Dust resulting from


    Ingestion, &


    IT IS A KNOWN CARCINOGEN ...AND...Of Course that means...


    You do not have ti be hit with a bullet, or be blown up.

    The dust gets in the air, and you breathe it, as well as

    it eventually gets carried into the ground water,

    contaminating the water supply.

    If you breathed it in, you now have nasal, throat or lung cancer.

    If you drank it, you have introduced it

    to the gastro-intestinal tract, liver, kidneys, blood and lymph systems.

    I will not say Napalm is the way to go,

    but it's usually quicker than most of the other ways described.

  21. BioTube

    @Mr. Newline-happy

    For the love of God, the human body can tolerate small amounts of U-238 without problem(and the radiological effects are minimal) - perhaps you're thinking of plutonium, which is extremely combustible and for which the body lacks any tolerance. Depleted uranium has been used in everything from silverware to planes - it's safe, ya nitwit.

  22. Dave Bell


    OK, they might have used WP, but it looks a bit too likely to start burning before the round is fired.

    I'm not sure |I want to know just what infernal devices Mr. Page's associates used to make safe a WP-filled piece of ordnance, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere nearby.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    RE: clathrate

    whilst it is true that this does represent a clathrate (or cage like) structure. the clathrates as a class are so varied as to make the development of a clathrate compound that can achieve a desired effect ( the prevention of WP oxidation) remains an acheivement of considerable scientific and technical note.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021