200th Birthday of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen

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  • Author: ChemViews
  • Published Date: 30 March 2011
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
thumbnail image: 200th Birthday of Robert Wilhelm Bunsen

Robert Wilhelm Bunsen did groundbreaking work in organic chemistry and spectrometry, but he's more famous for the laboratory gas burner that bears his name.


Born on March 30, 1811 in Göttingen, Germany, Bunsen studied chemistry in Göttigen, and obtaining his Ph.D. degree in 1831. In 1833 he became a lecturer at Göttingen and three years later accepted an associate professorship at the University of Marburg. He was promoted to full professorship in 1841. In late 1852 Bunsen became the successor of Leopold Gmelin at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he remained until his retirement in 1889.

Bunsen investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and with Gustav Kirchhoff discovered caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861). He developed several gas-analytical methods, was a pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of organoarsenic chemistry. Among his many inventions were a grease-spot photometer, a galvanic battery, an ice calorimeter, and the spectrometer that led to the discovery of cesium and rubidium.


His most famous invention, the Bunsen burner, was created with his laboratory assistant Peter Desaga. It was designed to produce a steady and near-colorless flame, an improvement on the laboratory burners then in use. It is still one of the most commonly recognized lab tools to this day.


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