Robert Bunsen Biography (1811-1899)


Robert Bunsen is best known for his invention of the improved gas flame device which bears his name: the Bunsen burner. However, Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen's contributions to science extend far beyond this one invention; he developed a number of other common laboratory instruments, as well as a new device and process for analyzing the elemental constituents of chemicals called spectroscopy. This new science, developed with Gustav Kirchhoff, is probably his most important legacy to science. Bunsen received his doctorate in 1830 from the University of Göttingen, in his hometown. His high marks earned him a grant from the Hanoverian government and with those funds he traveled toBerlin, Bonn, Paris, and Vienna during the next three years. At each stop hemet with the cities' great thinkers and toured their centers of industry. Upon his return to Göttingen he was made an instructor at the university;his stay there was brief, however, and he taught at several other German universities until 1852, when he settled into a professorship at the University of Heidelberg. During the years before Heidelberg, Bunsen's research efforts were concentrated in the field of organic chemistry, particularly in the studyof arsenic and its compounds. Though his studies yielded some advances, suchas the discovery of an antidote for cyanide poisoning, he abandoned this research when an explosion of cacodyl cyanide in 1843 cost him his right eye. Adetermined scientist, Bunsen applied his talents toward inorganic chemistry and the behavior of inorganic gases. He observed heated gases in geysers and furnaces and published his only book as a compilation of his gas research findings. At this time he began the work that would ultimately lead him to the discovery of spectroscopy. Bunsen had become interested in the chemical properties of alkali metals, such as barium and sodium. In order to isolate these elements, he invented new types of galvanic and carbon-zinc batteries (many ofwhich are still called Bunsen batteries). To properly analyze the elements, he constructed a very sensitive ice calorimeter, measuring the volume of melted ice, rather than the mass. In 1851, while visiting the University at Breslau, Bunsen developed a working friendship with Gustav Kirchhoff, then an instructor at Breslau. Kirchhoff shared his interest in the properties of chemicals, and in 1854 Bunsen persuaded Kirchhoff to transfer to the University of Heidelberg. Together, they began research on the spectral emission of elements.In their experiments, an element was superheated or burned, so that the color of its flame could be observed. Unfortunately, even the best gas burner ofthe time imparted a glow from its flame that crept into the element's spectrum, skewing the scientists' findings. Bunsen was again forced to invent equipment whose precision would match that of his own research. Working with a design used by Michael Faraday, Bunsen made improvements that resulted in the modern laboratory burner, a device which produces a very hot, nearly invisible flame. Using this tool, Bunsen and Kirchhoff went on to pioneer the science ofspectroscopy. Over the course of his career, Bunsen also invented a grease-spot photometer (used for measuring light), a process for mass-producing magnesium, a laboratory filter pump for washing precipitate samples, and a steam calorimeter. Bunsen died in 1899.

User Contributions:

wow... in the chemistry lab during my college days I have used the bunsen burner for every experiment... never realised its named after this great man... but again come to think of it, as simple as a gas burner, was considered a great innovation in those days... how much science has travelled...?? anyway, thanks to Google for educating me of this great scientist!

Dinesh Suna, Delhi
what a man all them years and he stuck with it that just goes to show he must have loved his work very talanted man I take my hat off to him and google lovely to read
great document but i am wonering if this scientist did not train others to innovate his inventions. Science is all we need to understand and function in life; especially if we we fear God and allow Him direct ouw whole life. God is the authour of science and we can inly connect to him to bring out the best of knowledge in life.
I want to know more about his Greatest inventions & discovery ?...
I wish people would use spell-check when writing letters. I am surprised at the number of mistakes made.

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