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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 16 (2011) pp 119-128

Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (1811–1899), Inspired 19th-Century Chemist: A Retrospective View on the Bicentennial of His Birth

George B. Kauffman* and Jean-Pierre Adloff

Department of Chemistry, California State University, Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740-8034,; Honorary Professor, Université Louis Pasteur, 63 Rue Saint Urbain, Strasbourg, France F-67100,

Published: 20 May 2011

Abstract. Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811–1899) was one of the most illustrious chemists of the 19th century. He was a true pioneer in inorganic chemistry, organometallic chemistry, gasometry, spectroscopy, and photochemistry; the discoverer of two elements; and an illustrious teacher at the Universität Heidelberg where he became a legend. Nevertheless, generations of high school alumni, students, and graduates in chemistry spontaneously associate his name only with the eponymous device, the Bunsen burner. This connection is especially inappropriate because Bunsen himself did not invent the famous burner. This article discusses Bunsen’s life and research, including his work on photochemistry with English scientist Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe (1833–1915) and on spectroscopy with German physicist Gustav Kirchhoff (1824–1897), with whom he discovered two alkali metals—rubidium and cesium— in 1860.

Key Words: Chemistry and History; history of chemistry; history of physics; biography; organometallic chemistry; arsenic compounds; cacodyls; gasometry; spectroscopy; discovery of elements; rubidium; cesium; apparatus; bunsen burner; apparatus; isolation of metallic elements; geology; geysers; analytical chemistry; photochemistry; spectroscopy; spectrometry; calorimetry

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