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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robert Bunsen

Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (30see below March 1811 – 16 August 1899) was a German chemist. He investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861) with 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.
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 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 process.
In 1860, Bunsen was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
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, regularly enriching his science with useful discoveries. As a matter of principle he never took out a patent. He never married.
Retirement and death
When Bunsen retired at the age of 78, he shifted his work solely to geology and mineralogy, an interest which he had pursued throughout his career. He died in Heidelberg, aged 88.

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