Obituary | Published:

M. F. E. Turpin


    M. FRANÇOIS ENGÈNE TURPIN, well known as the inventor of melinite, one of the high explosives used in shell-filling, died on Jan. 24 at Pontoise. We are indebted to a recent issue of La Nature for the following particulars of his life. After his birth at Rosendael in 1849 his parents moved to Paris, where, on leaving school, he began to study medicine. But he became interested in chemical research, aind it was not long before his natural skill in experimental work was publicly recognised by the bestowal upon him by the Paris Academy of Sciences of the Montyon prize for his invention of harmless colouring matters for children's toys, This invention presently involved him in some litigation, but, nothing daunted, he applied himself with energy to the study of explosives. Those were the days of black gunpowder, dynamite, and gun-cotton. The instability of nitrated organic compounds had rendered them unfit for use by the artillery and even unsafe to store in magazines. With the object of overcoming these difficulties Turpin decided to abandon the search for suitable material among aliphatic compounds and turned his attention to those of the aromatic series. After seven years of ceaseless toil he perfected a process for preparing a suitable high explosive from picric acid by the simple device of melting it in an oilbath and running it into moulds. When, shortly afterwards, a suitable detonator had been devised for use with the new explosive, the French Government purchased the new process from him; but the secret appears to have been treacherously revealed to a British firm by an artillery officer, whom Turpin vigorously denounced in a volume entitled “Comment on a vendu la m6linite.” For this indiscretion Turpin was prosecuted, and eventually condemned to prison on the charge of having revealed in his book secrets of importance to the national defence. After spending nearly two years in prison he was pardoned in 1893, and in 1901 he was completely restored to favour by being elected to serve as a technical adviser to the artillery. In this capacity he rendered invaluable service to France until after the War, when the State awarded him an annuity.

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