Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend longreads: red mercury

An incredibly interesting long article in The New York Times Magazine by C.J. Chivers about a legendary, mythological material called "red mercury", which I had never heard of. Here's a demonstration of the stuff: 
...Two years before in Ras al-Ain, another Syrian border town, Abu Omar said, he was with a group of Islamic fighters that organized a test with 3.5 grams of liquid red mercury and a container of chlorine. The experiment was led by Abu Suleiman al-Kurdi, who commanded a small fighting group that has since joined the Islamic State. Al-Kurdi gathered the jihadists around his materials as the test began. ‘‘I will count to 10, and whoever stays in the room after that suffocates and dies,’’ he warned. 
The chlorine was held in a foil-lined container, Abu Omar said. As the group watched, al-Kurdi dipped a needle into the red mercury and then touched the needle to the chlorine, transferring a drop. ‘‘Everything interacted with everything,’’ Abu Omar said, and a foul vapor rose. All of the fighters were driven away, first from the room, then from the house. 
The powers of red mercury, Abu Omar said, were real. 
Almost every aspect of this story, like so many other breathless accounts of red mercury, was unverifiable. And even if something did happen in that room, the noxious vapors could have a simple explanation: Chlorine alone damages the respiratory tract and can be deadly if inhaled. 
But Abu Omar had answered the question. He stood firmly in the red-mercury camp. He was hardly alone...
Gonna hafta start blaming deviations in the plant on unknown red mercury leaks. 


  1. Is it true that the explosion at Texas Tech occurred during the synthesis of 20 nL of red mercury?

    How do the side effects of green mercury compare to those of Viagra and Cialis?

  2. I believe that at some point there was an experimental substance Hg(II)-antimonate (Hg2Sb2O7) that had some potential military application in Soviet Union: Supposedly, this heavy metal salt, if intermixed with mercury metal and irradiated in a reactor, in the crystalline form it was capable of storing a surprisingly large quantity of thermal energy in the form of metastable lattice dislocations (Wigner energy). It was considered as a potential replacement of a conventional explosive in nuclear warheads in Soviet union, which in theory could make smaller nukes, but these designs did not go far and they never got weaponized because Soviet union fell apart and nuclear testing moratorium. The substance was very expensive to make, and on its own it wasn't all that useful to a potential terrorist - unless that terrorist had already means to construct a highly sophisticated modern thermonuclear warhead and was trying to design even a better one

  3. ‘‘Everything interacted with everything" is my favorite line.

    1. I see them running, being chased by a yellow cloud, and yelling excitedly Allahu Akhbar.

      By the way, have you noticed how their fervent islamism goes hand in hand with total scientific ignorance? It should not be too hard to scam them with a chemical trick

    2. Indeed. I recently worked with a VERY devout Sunni (from Mosul). One of the smartest guys I ever met but when there was a conflict between science and Islam, Islam for him was always correct, and that particular science was wrong. He actually believed in spirits.

      Scary that some of these people have the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

      He will be definitely one of the "five guys I will meet in heaven.", along with my post-doc advisor that chased grad students.

    3. NMH - Replace Islam with Christian and you could say the same thing about a large number of US politicians and candidates for POTUS.

    4. I remember reading about a fundamentalist Islamic outfit which was (thankfully) scammed for a few hundred thousand dollars by fake yellow cake a few years ago.

    5. The Chechens were supposedly scammed for money to buy the garden-variety mercury, for some reason or another (, so this doesn't seem implausible.

      I imagine who gets scammed by this depends on how much of your calling is based on exploiting anger. If you want to get powerful and rich, and have other ways to do it, this stuff probably won't appeal to you, but if you can't see any way to get what makes you happy and have decided that revolution and chaos are the best way to get it, or to make others not have it, then appeals like this might work. There's just too many stupid people to assume that any one system has a monopoly on them.

      Anon 11:07: see the second link in the post for a long list of shows using "red mercury" as a tool.

  4. Wasn't this a JJ Abrams trope from Alias and the Star Trek reboot?

  5. This post reminded me of "The Sleeper" episode of the BBC spy show "Spooks" known as "MI-5" here in the US. The episode is about convincing and baiting terrorist into thinking a professor has developed red mercury and is willing to sell it to repair his financial situation.

  6. Abu Omar's previous occupation was probably running a meth lab in Cleveland... :-)

  7. Someone ought to flood the Daesh market with red-coloured flame retardant, not only to siphon their funds but to make their weaponry potentially useless!