[Editor's note: Today is the last day of "Chemical Month." From bisphenol A to endosulfan, from dioxin to antioxidants, from hexane to methyl iodide, 13.7 Billion Years looked at some of the key chemicals and chemical-based issues that make up the vast laboratory of our daily lives. For the last post in this series, 13.7 focuses not on a substance, but on a person -- Robert Bunsen, a German chemist who was born two centuries ago today.]
If you've ever taken a chemistry class, chances are you've used Robert Bunsen's ubiquitous burner, an invention that has been critical to the development of modern chemistry.
Perfectly and reliably producing a single open gas flame that was hot, sootless and non-luminous, the Bunsen burner represented a huge improvement on the burners that were used at the time. An exercise in simplicity, it is perfect for heating, sterilization and combustion. And its non-luminous flame was critical -- it did not interfere with the test material's own colored flame.
Though he is most known for his eponymous burner, the German chemist also made some significant discoveries. With Gustav Kirchhoff, he discovered two elements -- caesium and rubidium. He was also pioneer in photochemistry, organoarsenic chemistry, gas analysis and spectroscopy.
Known for never patenting his discoveries as a matter of principle (though they could have made him extremely wealthy), Bunsen was much-loved during his lifetime. According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, "Young chemists flocked to him, including Julius Lothar Meyer and Dmitri Mendeleev."
But he also paid the price for his curiosity. The foundation also notes that his early research in organic chemistry "cost him the use of his right eye when an arsenic compound, cacodyl cyanide, exploded."
Thankfully, curiosity didn't kill this chemistry-minded cat. He died at the age of 88 in Heidelberg, ten years after he retired. His last years were spent studying rocks and minerals. But Robert Bunsen's hot, sootless and non-luminous flame lives on.
- Do some kid-safe chemistry experiments at home
- Buy a Bunsen burner (and protective goggles, of course)
- Know the ingredients in your personal care products (from Environmental Working Group)
- Sign a Greenpeace petition urging President Obama to create a cancer prevention plan that stops the use of cancer-causing chemicals in products used every day
- Buy "Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products," which provides healthy, sustainable DIY alternatives to most personal care products (part of 13.7 Billion Year's "test household")
- Follow 13.7 Billion Years on Twitter
- Chemical Month | 126 Ingredients
- Chemical Month | Dioxin
- Chemical Month | Lead
- Chemical Month | Pesticides and Dementia
- Chemical Month | Radon
- Chemical Month | Tox21
- Chemical Month | Triclosan
- Chemical Month | Mercury
- Chemical Month | Zinc
- Chemical Month | Hexane
- Chemical Month | Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers
- Chemical Month | Methyl Iodide
- Chemical Month | Antioxidant in Apples Extends Lifespan
- Chemical Month | Scientists Offer Help to Federal Regulators
- Chemical Month | Marine Life is Taking Prozac
- Chemical Month | Perfluorinated Carboxylic Acid
- Chemical Month | Endosulfan
- Chemical Month | Bisphenol A
- Shopper's Guide to Pesticides
- Berry, Berry Interesting
- If the USDA Says It's Organic, Is It?
- Killing Weeds, Poisoning Ourselves
- Antidepressants Affecting Arthropods
- Clean Bodies, Dirty Water
- From Dirty Hands to Dolphin Blood
- More Than Four Decades Later, A Portuguese Mine Still Pollutes
- If We Really Are What We Eat, Most of Us Are A Bit Disturbing
- April 16-24: World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week
- June 1: Solar Eclipse (2nd of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
- June 8: World Oceans Day
- June 15: Lunar Eclipse (1st of 2 total lunar eclipses in 2011)
- July 1: Solar Eclipse (3rd of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
- November 25: Solar Eclipse (4th of 4 partial solar eclipses in 2011)
- December 10: Lunar Eclipse (2nd of 2 total lunar eclipses in 2011)
- Help Japan
- Help children in Japan: Donate to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's emergency appeal to help quake victims
- Help animals in Japan: Donate to HSI International Disaster Fund
- Sign the Humane Society 2011 Boycott to Save Seals
image: Robert Bunsen (credit: F.J. Moore, Wikimedia Commons)