by Ruth Perkins

When I was asked to write about Bromine I was fully prepared to be sitting here blogging about soldiers’ libido and how they were given bromine in their tea to suppress it. I am a bit relieved to not have to go into any detail as it appears to be a myth popular in many countries in the world!  I am pleased instead to give you some insight into the history behind bromine, it’s uses, how it relates to health and some links to great resources all about it.

So let’s talk about the facts


Bromine. Photo: Alchemist-hp, CC-BY-SA

Bromine was officially discovered in 1826 by the down to earth (or sea) French chemist Antoine-Jérôme Balard. Whilst investigating some of the plants from salt water marshes near his home he isolated this strongly coloured liquid. He called it ‘muride’ from the latin for brine and presented his findings, with a sample, to the Academie des Sciences in Paris. They eventually agreed with him, but suggested he change the name to Bromine from the Greek for stench.

Carl Jacob Löwig, a German chemist, also independently discovered Bromine, but Balard published a paper first.

If you’d like to know more about Balard then the Pasteur Brewing website has a great biography of the man who encouraged the young student Pasteur when he was a chief lecturer at the École Normal.

What makes bromine so special?

Very few elements have been found that are liquid around room temperature, and bromine is the only non-metallic one. It has a very distinctive smell which is as far as you can get from a nice one (that explains the name then). In the vial above you can see the dark red, almost opaque, colour of the liquid. The translucent orange colour at the top of the vial is bromine gas.

There have been many uses found for bromine containing chemicals over the years, dying Roman senator’s clothes purple, to developing photographic film, but what about in our health?

Roman senator_recreation

A member of a reenactment group dressed as a Roman senator, complete with bromine-containing Tyrian purple robes. Photo: Bravinsky, CC-BY-SA

Bromine for health?

Various Bromides have been used as sedatives around a hundred years, and are still used in medicine for that purpose. That might explain the myth of using it as an anti aphrodisiac (or anaphrodisiac) but would have meant that soldiers were much too sleepy to fight the enemy!



British soldiers chatting to German girls in 1945 – no bromides required! Photo: Public Domain


Let’s get experimenting!

Have a look at this video on the RSCorg youtube channel showing a nice little experiment from the 2012 RI Christmas Lectures about bromine, water from the Dead Sea and bleach.

And don’t forget to get involved with the global experiment!


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