Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (31st March, 1811 – 16th August, 1899) was a German chemist. He perfected the burner that was named after him, invented by British chemist/physicist Michael Faraday, and worked on emission spectroscopy of heated elements.
Bunsen was the youngest of four sons. After attending school in Holzminden, he studied chemistry at the University of Göttingen. He received his doctorate at 19 and then, from 1830 to 1833, traveled across western Europe. During this time, he met Runge (the discoverer of aniline), Justus von Liebig in Giessen, and Alexander Mitscherlich in Bonn.
After his return to Germany, Bunsen became a lecturer at Göttingen and began experimental studies of the (in)solubility of metal salts of arsenious acid . Today, his discovery of the use of iron oxide hydrate as a precipitating agent is still the best known antidote against arsenic poisoning.
In 1836, Bunsen succeeded Wöhler at Kassel. After teaching there for two years, he accepted a position at the University of Marburg, where he studied cacodyl derivatives. Although Bunsen's work brought him quick and wide acclaim, he almost killed himself from arsenic poisoning. It also cost him the sight of one eye, when an explosion propelled a glass sliver into his eye. In 1841, Bunsen created a carbon electrode that could be used instead of the expensive platinum electrode used in Grove's battery.
In 1852, Bunsen took the position of Leopold Gmelin at Heidelberg. Using nitric acid, he was able to produce pure metals such as chromium, magnesium, aluminum, manganese, sodium, barium, calcium and lithium by electrolysis. A ten year collaboration with Sir Henry Roscoe began in 1852, studying the formation of hydrogen chloride from hydrogen and chlorine.
In 1859, Bunsen discontinued his work with Roscoe and joined Gustav Kirchhoff to study emission spectroscopy of heated elements. For that purpose, Bunsen perfected a special gas burner, invented by the scientist Michael Faraday in 1885 that was later named the "Bunsen burner". When Bunsen retired at the age of 78, he shifted his interest to geology, which had long been a hobby of his.
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