napalm (nāˈpäm) [key], incendiary material developed during World War II by Harvard scientists cooperating with the U.S. army and used in bombs and flame throwers. Napalm is based on a mixture of gasoline, sometimes mixed with other petroleum fuels, and a thickening agent. The thickener, to which the term napalm was originally applied, turns the mixture into a thick jelly that flows under pressure, as when shot from a flame thrower, and sticks to a target as it burns. One of the first thickeners used was an aluminum soap (a salt of aluminum and certain fatty acids). Later thickeners have been based on polystyrene and similar polymers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on napalm from Fact Monster:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Organic Chemistry