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People used to make film rolls from nitrocellulose (also known as nitrate film) by applying a thin layer of light-sensitive material.

Nitrocellulose is the result of a chemical reaction between cellulose, nitric acid and alcohol (nitration). Nitrocellulose has an unstable molecular structure, which makes it easy to work with, but also highly flammable.

Just how much of a fire hazard nitrate films are is illustrated in the film ‘Inglourious Basterds’, in which a woman uses her film archive as an explosive to kill a Nazi delegation. Very useful of course, but in ‘real life’ old film reels must be handled with utmost care. Nitrocellulose is still used today in varnishes, explosives and fireworks.

Last modified:12 April 2021 1.23 p.m.
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