The lkatest installment from Livescience examines the way gunpowder changed the world. Chinese alchemists discovered the mix of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur ironically enough while attempting to find an elixer that would extend the human lifespan. Instead they discovered the most devastating weapon in human history.
"Gunpowder was quickly put to use by the reigning Sung dynasty against the Mongols, whose constant invasions into the country plagued the Chinese throughout the period. The Mongols were the first to be subject to flying fire — an arrow fixed with a tube of gunpowder that ignited and would propel itself across enemy lines. More gunpowder-based weapons were invented by the Chinese and perfected against the Mongols in the next centuries, including the first cannons and grenades. The psychological effect alone of the mystifying new technology likely helped the Chinese win battles against the Mongols, historians believe."
Gunpowder was exclusive to the Chinese until around the 13th century, when its secret was passed along the Silk Road into the Islamic world. The Ottoman Turks utilized gunpowder in cannons to lay seige to the capital of the Byzantine empire, Constantinople, and eventually destroy its walls and conquer the city in 1453. By the middle of the 15th century, individual firearms began to created, with further developments such as rifled barrels, cartridged ammunition, and machine guns coming as late as the 19th century.