Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (/ˈbʌnsən/; German: [ˈbʊnzən]; 30
March 1811[N1] – 16 August 1899) was a German chemist. He
investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered
caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861) with the physicist Gustav
Kirchhoff. Bunsen developed several gas-analytical methods, was a
pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of
organoarsenic chemistry. With his laboratory assistant, Peter Desaga,
he developed the Bunsen burner, an improvement on the laboratory
burners then in use. The
Bunsen–Kirchhoff Award for spectroscopy is
named after Bunsen and Kirchhoff.
1 Early life and education
2 Academic career
4 Retirement and death
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Early life and education
Robert Bunsen was born at
Göttingen in 1811, in what is now the state
of Lower Saxony in Germany. Bunsen was the youngest of four sons of
the University of Göttingen's chief librarian and professor of modern
philology, Christian Bunsen (1770–1837). Sources disagree on
Robert Bunsen's exact birth date. His parish register, as well as two
curricula vitae handwritten by Bunsen himself, support the claim that
30 March 1811 is Bunsen's true birth date; however, many
later sources cite 31 March as the date. According
to his biographer Georg Lockemann, Bunsen himself celebrated his
birthday on the 31st in his later years. Lockemann nevertheless
regarded the 30th as the correct date.
After attending school in Holzminden, Bunsen matriculated at
Göttingen in 1828 and studied chemistry with
Friedrich Stromeyer as
well as mineralogy with
Johann Friedrich Ludwig Hausmann
Johann Friedrich Ludwig Hausmann and
mathematics with Carl Friedrich Gauss. After obtaining a PhD in
1831, Bunsen spent 1832 and 1833 traveling in Germany, France, and
Austria; Friedlieb Runge (who discovered aniline and in 1819 isolated
Justus von Liebig
Justus von Liebig in Giessen, and
Eilhard Mitscherlich in
Bonn were among the many scientists he met on his journeys.
In 1833 Bunsen became a lecturer at
Göttingen and began experimental
studies of the (in)solubility of metal salts of arsenous acid. His
discovery of the use of iron oxide hydrate as a precipitating agent is
still today the most effective antidote against arsenic poisoning.
This interdisciplinary research was carried on and published in
conjunction with the physician Arnold Adolph Berthold. In
1836, Bunsen succeeded
Friedrich Wöhler at the Polytechnic School of
Kassel (German: Baugewerkschule Kassel). Bunsen taught there for three
years, and then accepted an associate professorship at the University
of Marburg, where he continued his studies on cacodyl derivatives. He
was promoted to full professorship in 1841. While at University of
Marburg, Bunsen participated in the 1846 expedition for the
investigation of Iceland's volcanoes.
Bunsen's work brought him quick and wide acclaim, partly because
cacodyl, which is extremely toxic and undergoes spontaneous combustion
in dry air, is so difficult to work with. Bunsen almost died from
arsenic poisoning, and an explosion with cacodyl cost him sight in his
right eye. In 1841, Bunsen created the
Bunsen cell battery, using
a carbon electrode instead of the expensive platinum electrode used in
William Robert Grove's electrochemical cell. Early in 1851 he accepted
a professorship at the University of Breslau, where he taught for
three semesters.
Gustav Kirchhoff (left) and
Robert Bunsen (right)
In late 1852 Bunsen became the successor of
Leopold Gmelin at the
University of Heidelberg. There he used electrolysis to produce pure
metals, such as chromium, magnesium, aluminum, manganese, sodium,
barium, calcium and lithium. A long collaboration with Henry Enfield
Roscoe began in 1852, in which they studied the photochemical
formation of hydrogen chloride (HCl) from hydrogen and chlorine. From
this work, the reciprocity law of Bunsen and Roscoe originated. He
discontinued his work with Roscoe in 1859 and joined Gustav Kirchhoff
to study emission spectra of heated elements, a research area called
spectrum analysis. For this work, Bunsen and his laboratory assistant,
Peter Desaga, had perfected a special gas burner by 1855, which was
influenced by earlier models. The newer design of Bunsen and Desaga,
which provided a very hot and clean flame, is now called simply the
"Bunsen burner", a common laboratory equipment.
There had been earlier studies of the characteristic colors of heated
elements, but nothing systematic. In the summer of 1859, Kirchhoff
suggested to Bunsen that he should try to form prismatic spectra of
these colors. By October of that year the two scientists had invented
an appropriate instrument, a prototype spectroscope. Using it, they
were able to identify the characteristic spectra of sodium, lithium,
and potassium. After numerous laborious purifications, Bunsen proved
that highly pure samples gave unique spectra. In the course of this
work, Bunsen detected previously unknown new blue spectral emission
lines in samples of mineral water from Dürkheim. He guessed that
these lines indicated the existence of an undiscovered chemical
element. After careful distillation of forty tons of this water, in
the spring of 1860 he was able to isolate 17 grams of a new
element. He named the element "caesium", after the Latin word for deep
blue. The following year he discovered rubidium, by a similar
In 1860, Bunsen was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences.
Bunsen's grave in Heidelberg's Bergfriedhof
Robert Bunsen together with Gustav Robert Kirchhoff were the
first recipients of the prestigious
Davy Medal "for their researches
& discoveries in spectrum analysis".
Bunsen was one of the most universally admired scientists of his
generation. He was a master teacher, devoted to his students, and they
were equally devoted to him. At a time of vigorous and often caustic
scientific debates, Bunsen always conducted himself as a perfect
gentleman, maintaining his distance from theoretical disputes. He much
preferred to work quietly in his laboratory, continuing to enrich his
science with useful discoveries. As a matter of principle he never
took out a patent. He never married.
Despite his lack of pretension, Bunsen was a vivid "chemical
character," had a well-developed sense of humor, and is the subject of
many amusing anecdotes.
Retirement and death
When Bunsen retired at the age of 78, he shifted his work solely to
geology and mineralogy, interests which he had pursued throughout his
career. He died in
Heidelberg at the age of 88.
List of German inventors and discoverers
^ a b c d American Chemical Society (1900). "Professor Robert W.
Bunsen". Journal of the American Chemical Society. American Chemical
Society. 23: 89–107.
^ Martin Quack (2011). "Wann wurde Robert Wilhelm Bunsen geboren?".
Bunsen-Magazin. Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft für Physikalische
Chemie. 2: 56–57.
^ a b Robert Wilhelm Bunsens Korrespondenz vor dem Antritt der
Heidelberger Professur (1852): kritische Edition; Christine Stock,
[ed.] Stuttgart: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2007.
^ "Robert Wilhelm Bunsen", Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia
Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 3 April 2011
^ a b Georg Lockemann: Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. Lebensbild eines
deutschen Naturforschers, Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft
Stuttgart, 1949, p. 18
^ "Robert Bunsen's 200th Anniversary", Royal Society of Chemistry
^ "Bunsen without his burner", Colin A. Russell, Phys. Educ. 34(5)
^ "Bunsen, Robert Wilhelm Eberhard, Complete Dictionary of Scientific
Biography (2008). Retrieved 31 March 2011 from Encyclopedia.com
^ Jones, F.; Grossmann, J. (1911). "The Centenary of Bunsen's Birth".
Nature. 86 (2159): 79. Bibcode:1911Natur..86...79J.
^ Teller, J. D. (1943). "Humanizing Science and Mathematics by
Commemorating March Anniversaries". School Science and Mathematics. 43
(3): 234. doi:10.1111/j.1949-8594.1943.tb05846.x.
^ "Robert Wilhelm Bunsen". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 16 September
^ Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Bunsen, Robert
Wilhelm". The American Cyclopædia.
^ Oesper, R.E. (1941). "Bunsen's Trip to Iceland as Recounted in
Letters to His Mother". J. Chem. Educ. 18 (6): 253–260.
^ Bunsen, R. (1841). "Ueber eine neue Construction der galvanischen
Säule". Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie. 38 (3): 311–313.
^ Jensen, William B. (2005). "The Origin of the Bunsen Burner".
Journal of Chemical Education. 82 (4): 518.
^ "Chemical Manipulation, Being Instructions to Students in
Internet Archive Michael Faraday, 1827
^ Lockemann, G.; Oesper, R. (1955). "Bunsen's Transfer from Cassel to
Marburg". J. Chem. Educ. 32 (9): 456–460.
Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff". Science History Institute.
Retrieved 20 March 2018.
^ Lockemann, G. (1949). Robert Wilhelm Bunsen. Stuttgart:
Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft. pp. 214–223.
^ Jensen, William B. (2013) Chapter 2, pp. 7-31 in "Characters in
Chemistry: A Celebration of the Humanity of Chemistry",
doi:10.1021/bk-2013-1136.ch002, American Chemical Society Symposium
Series, Vol. 1136. ISBN 9780841228016.
Gasometry: Comprising the Leading Physical and Chemical Properties of
Gases by Robert Bunsen; translated by Henry Roscoe. London: Walton and
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen, by Georg Lockemann, 1949.
Sir Henry Roscoe's "Bunsen Memorial Lecture", in: Trans. Chem. Soc.,
1900, reprinted (in German) with other obituary notices in an edition
of Bunsen's collected works published by Wilhelm Ostwald and Max
Bodenstein in 3 vols. at Leipzig in 1904. This is Gesammelte
Abhandlungen von Robert Bunsen: im Auftrage der Deutschen
Bunsen-Gesellschaft für angewandte Physikalische Chemie hrsg. von
Wilhelm Ostwald und Max Bodenstein. 3 Bände. Leipzig: W. Engelmann,
Crew, H. (1899). "Robert Wilhelm Bunsen". The Astrophysical Journal.
10: 301–305. Bibcode:1899ApJ....10..301C. doi:10.1086/140654.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Bunsen, Robert Wilhelm von.
Media related to
Robert Bunsen at Wikimedia Commons
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen
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