Ascanio Sobrero (1812-1888)



Ascanio Sobrero (October 12, 1812 - May 26, 1888) was an Italian chemist who in 1847 discovered nitroglycerin, a powerful explosive and vasodilator. His student, Alfred Nobel, patented, commercialized, and profited from Sobrero's discoveries.


Sobrero studied medicine in Turin and Paris and then chemistry at the University of Gießen with Justus Liebig, and he earned his doctorate in 1832. In 1845 he became professor at the University of Turin.

He initially called his discovery "pyroglycerine" and warned vigorously against its use in his private letters and in a journal article, stating that it was extremely dangerous and impossible to handle. In fact, he was so frightened by what he created that he kept it a secret for over a year.

Another of Pelouze's students was the young Alfred Nobel, who returned to the Nobel family's defunct armaments factory and began experimenting with the material around 1860; it did, indeed prove to be very difficult to discover how to handle it safely. In the 1860s Nobel received several patents around the world for mixtures, devices and manufacturing methods based on the explosive power of nitroglycerine, eventually leading to the invention of dynamite.

Although Nobel always acknowledged and honored Sobrero as the man who had discovered nitroglycerine, Sobrero was dismayed both by the uses to which the explosive had been put, and by the fame and fortune accorded to Nobel because of it.