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Robert Bunsen was a German chemist best known for his invention of the Bunsen burner. He also discovered the existence and characteristics of the elements cesium and rubidium.
See the fact file below for more information on the Robert Bunsen or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Robert Bunsen worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Robert Wilhelm Bunsen was born in Göttingen, Westphalia, Germany on March 30, 1811. He was the youngest of the family’s sons.
- His father, Christian Bunsen, was the chief librarian and professor of modern philology at the University of Göttingen.
- He had his primary and secondary education in his hometown and then moved to a grammar school in Holzminden when he was 15 years old.
- In 1828, he started taking up courses in chemistry, mathematics, and physics with some botany and geology at the University of Göttingen.
- In 1830, at 19 years old, he completed his Ph.D. in chemistry. He also worked on a humidity meter and won an award for this.
- He traveled around Europe through a government scholarship to continue his study in chemistry.
- He learned chemical techniques in laboratories in Austria, France, Germany, and Switzerland during most of 1832 and 1833. He met many other scientists on his journey, including the chemist Joseph Gay-Lussac, whom he worked with in Paris.
CAREER AND CONTRIBUTIONS
- Bunsen became a lecturer at Göttingen in 1833 and started his experimental studies about the solubility of metal salts of arsenous acid.
- With Arnold Berthold, Bunsen discovered that iron oxide hydrate can be used to precipitate arsenic compounds as ferrous arsenate, which is harmless and insoluble. His method is used today as the most effective antidote for arsenic poisoning.
- Bunsen also made a face mask with a breathing tube that feeds clean air from outdoors while he worked with arsenic compounds that release toxic fumes.
- In 1836, he succeeded Friedrich Wöhler as the head of the Polytechnic School of Kassel and taught there for three years.
- He was then given an associate professorship at the University of Marburg, also continuing to study about cacodyl derivatives.
- In 1841, he was given full professorship.
- In 1841, Bunsen invented the Bunsen cell battery, that replaced the platinum in Grove’s cell with carbon which made it a lot cheaper.
- He produced the first large scale sample of pure magnesium metal by combining his zinc-carbon cells into a large battery and isolated the metals found in their ores.
- Other researchers were also able to carry out studies on electrochemistry after the replacement of platinum with carbon.
- Between 1838 and 1846, Bunsen developed methods to investigate the gases produced by industries. His study showed that 50 to 80% or more heat is wasted in blast furnaces. In 1857, he published Geometrische Methoden where he explained his methods of measuring the volumes of gases from such industries.
- In 1846, he participated in an expedition to investigate Iceland’s volcanoes. In this expedition, he found out that geysers have a reservoir of very hot water at their base.
- He also taught at the University of Breslau in 1851. After three semesters, he came to the University of Heidelberg where he remained until his retirement.
- While in Heidelberg, he produced pure metals such as aluminum, barium, calcium, and chromium using electrolysis.
- In 1852, he collaborated with Henry Enfield Roscoe. Their study about the photochemical formation of hydrogen chloride led to the creation of the Reciprocity Law of Bunsen and Roscoe.
- Bunsen and Peter Desaga, his laboratory assistant, invented a special gas burner in 1855. Their design of burner provided a scorching clean flame, and it is now known as the Bunsen burner.
- In 1859, he left his work with Roscoe and joined Gustav Kirchhoff in studying the emission spectra of heated elements.
- By October of 1859, Kirchhoff and Bunsen devised a prototype spectroscope that enabled them to identify a spectra’s characteristics.
- After many purifications, Bunsen was able to prove that a spectrum unique to the metal is given off by highly pure samples of the metal.
- He also detected unknown spectral emission lines in the samples of mineral water they are using. Guessing that these indicated the presence of undiscovered elements, he carefully distilled forty tons of this water and was able to isolate 17 grams of the unknown element in the spring of 1860. Deriving from the Latin word for deep blue, he named this element “caesium”. In the following year, by a similar process, he discovered rubidium.
- He is also credited for inventing the filter pump in 1868, the ice calorimeter in 1870, and the vapour calorimeter in 1887.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
- In 1853, the Académie des Sciences made him a corresponding member and later a foreign member in 1882.
- In 1860, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences elected him as a foreign member. He received the Copley Medal in the same year, from the Royal Society of London.
- In 1877, the very first Davy Medal was awarded to Bunsen and Kirchhoff “for their research and discoveries in spectrum analysis.”
- In recognition of his numerous and most valuable applications of Chemistry and Physics to the Arts and Manufactures, he was given the Albert Medal in 1898.
DEATH AND LEGACY
- Robert Bunsen was totally dedicated to his profession and never married.
- He was a much-loved and popular scientist and was loving to his students, who also returned his affection.
- He retired in 1889, at the age of 78. He then shifted his research into mineralogy and geology.
- He died at the age of 88 in Heidelberg on August 16, 1899.
Robert Bunsen Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Robert Bunsen across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Robert Bunsen worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Robert Bunsen who was a German chemist best known for his invention of the Bunsen burner. He also discovered the existence and characteristics of the elements cesium and rubidium.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Robert Bunsen Facts
- Inventor Chemist
- Extra Facts
- What’s Burning?
- Good to Know
- More than the Burner
- Elemental Spotlight
- Staying Safe
- Electricity and Metals
- Award Talks
- Spectral Fireworks
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