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Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811 - 1899)

Pioneer of Spectroscopy and Co-discoverer of Cesium and Rubidium

By Todd Helmenstine

Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811 - 1899)

Pioneer of spectroscopy and inventor of the bunsen burner.

F. J. Moore, 'A History of Chemistry' c.1918
Born

March 31, 1811 in Göttingen, Germany.

Died

August 16, 1899 in Heidelberg, Germany at age 88.

Claim to Fame

  • Discovered the use of iron oxide hydrate as an antidote for arsenic poisoning.
  • Created the Bunsen battery by improving the Grove battery, the leading battery technology of the time. This was done by replacing the platinum electrode with a cheaper carbon electrode.
  • Experimentally demonstrated how geysers work.
  • Synthesized pure samples of aluminum, barium, calcium, chromium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, and sodium through the process of electrolysis.
  • Pioneered spectroscopy with Gustav Kirchhoff to identify elements.
  • The concept of premixing gas with air before combustion was brought to Peter Desaga who engineered what would become the bunsen burner.
  • Identified the elements cesium and rubidium with Kirchhoff using spectroscopy.
  • Mentored many famous chemists including Dmitri Mendeleev and three Nobel Prize winners: Adolf von Baeyer (1905), Fritz Haber (1918), and Philipp Lenard (1905 Physics).
Notable Awards

  • Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London in 1860.
  • First Davy Medal with Kirchhoff in 1887.
  • Albert Medal in 1898.
Interesting Trivia

Bunsen lost sight in his right eye to a glass sliver from a laboratory accident.

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