Hydrogen cyanide

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−13.4 °C, 260 K, 8 °F

25.6 °C, 299 K, 78 °F

Hydrogen cyanide (with the historical common name of Prussic acid) is a chemical compound with chemical formula HCN. Hydrogen cyanide is a colorless, extremely poisonous liquid that boils slightly above room temperature at 26 °C (79 °F). Hydrogen cyanide is a linear molecule, with a triple bond between carbon and nitrogen. A minor tautomer of HCN is HNC, hydrogen isocyanide.

Hydrogen cyanide is weakly acidic with a pKa of 9.2. It partly ionizes in water solution to give the cyanide anion, CN. A solution of hydrogen cyanide in water is called hydrocyanic acid. The salts of hydrogen cyanide are known as cyanides.

HCN has a faint, bitter, burnt almond-like odor that some people are unable to detect owing to a genetic trait.[2] The volatile compound has been used as inhalation rodenticide and human poison. Cyanide ions interfere with iron-containing respiratory enzymes.

HCN is produced on an industrial scale and is a highly valuable precursor to many chemical compounds ranging from polymers to pharmaceuticals.


History of discovery

Hydrogen cyanide was first isolated from a blue dye (Prussian blue) which had been known from 1704 but whose structure was unknown. It is now known to be a coordination polymer with a complex structure and an empirical formula of hydrated ferric ferrocyanide. In 1752, the French chemist Pierre Macquer made the important step of showing that Prussian blue could be converted to iron oxide plus a volatile component and that these could be used to reconstitute the dye. The new component was what we now know as hydrogen cyanide. Following Macquer's lead, it was first isolated from Prussian blue in pure form and characterized about 1783 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele, and was eventually given the German name Blausäure (literally "Blue acid") because of its acidic nature in water and its derivation from Prussian blue. In English it became known popularly as Prussic acid.

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