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Learn about the Royal Water [Chemistry]
posted July 31 2012 6:02.22 by Giorgos Lazaridis

Royal Water, or Aqua Regia is the name of a very popular and highly corrosive acid, the nitro-hydrochloric acid. The mixture is a concentration of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, usually in the analogy of 1:3. It is so called "Royal Water" not because kings used to drink it, but because it is able to dissolve noble metals such as gold and platinum. There are still some metals such as titanium, iridium, osmium, rhodium and others that even the royal water cannot dissolve them.

As a historical reference, aqua regia was first used in the medieval ages by Pseudo-Geber, an anonymous European alchemist born in the 13th century, also known as Paul of Taranto. Pseudo-Geber wrote a series of alchemy and metallurgy books in Latin and signed with the name "Geber". Later in 1789, Antoine Lavoisier called it nitro-muriatic acid.

There is a very interesting story behind the Aqua Regia solution. For some reason back in WW2, accepting or keeping any Nobel Prize by Germans was prohibited by the German government. Peace activist Carl von Ossietzky had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 and he was jailed. When Germany invaded Denmark, a Hungarian chemist named George de Hevesy wanted to prevent the two Nobel prizes of German physicists Max von Laue (1914) and James Franck (1925) from falling into the hands of the Nazis. Therefore, he dissolved them in aqua regia. Being in liquid form, he stored the gold into glass containers on the shelves in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute, possible with tens of other similar containers. The gold was ignored by the Nazis since it was just another jar on the shelf. After the war, George de Hevesy returned and found the gold solution untouched. So he precipitated the gold out of the acid and returned it to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation. The golden medals were re-casted from the same gold...


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