In the mid-ninth century, Chinese alchemists were trying to create a potion for immortality. Instead, what they created was a flammable powder that burned down many of their homes. They quickly realized that this black powder, which they called fire medicine, was precisely the opposite of something that would make you live forever.
Once they figured out the right proportions of ingredients to create a blast, they began using the powder even more, creating fireworks to keep evil spirits away and bombs to defend themselves against Mongol invaders. It was these Mongols, most likely, who spread the invention of gunpowder across the world.
So, while the Chinese alchemists never found the compound for eternal life, they did find something that would go on to shape all of civilization, something that has caused many tragic moments in human history, and yet still gives us hope when we look up in celebration at the colorful night sky.
From the TED-Ed Lesson The deadly irony of gunpowder – Eric Rosado
Animation by Zedem Media