The Bunsen Burner, is a common piece of laboratory equipment that produces a single open gas flame used for heating, sterilization, and combustion was invented by German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen on March 31, 1811. Working alongside his lab assistant, Peter Desaga, he designed a burner with a hot, sootless, non-luminous flame by mixing the gas with air in a controlled fashion before combustion. Bunsen burners are now used in laboratories all around the world. The device in use today safely burns a continuous stream of a flammable gas such as natural gas (generally methane) or a liquefied petroleum gas such as propane, butane, or a mixture of both.
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Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen was born on March 30, 1811 at Göttingen in 1811, in what is now the state of Lower Saxony in Germany (though there are some documents stating the 31st). Bunsen was the youngest of four sons of the University’s chief librarian and professor of modern philology, Christian Bunsen. He investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861) with Gustav Kirchhoff. He also developed several gas-analytical methods, was a pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of organoarsenic chemistry.
Bunsen was one of the most universally admired scientists of his generation. A master teacher, he always conducted himself as a perfect gentleman, maintaining his distance from theoretical disputes. He much preferred to work quietly in his laboratory, continuing to enrich his science with useful discoveries. As a matter of principle he never took out a patent. He retired at the age of 78 and thereafter pursued his interests in geology and mineralogy. He died in Heidelberg at the age of 88.
Bring it Home
Upon reading about Eberhard von Bunsen and his invention, I really wanted an opportunity for my kiddos to experience using a Bunsen burner. However, as you can guess, a Bunsen Burner is not typically available to homeschool families unless you have access to a high school or college science lab. If this is a possibility for you and you are interested in learning how to use one safely, the video Introduction to the Bunsen Burner provides a great introduction. It also discusses typical lab applications and safety precautions.
As an alternative, there are many hands-on lab activities that can be done safely in your home with simply a candle or Sterno Cooking Fuels. Here are a few ideas that you may wish to explore at home.
- Burning Sugar Lab – Observe the chemical changes that take place when sugar is exposed to heat
Subscribers to my newsletter will receive the download link to my Burning Sugar Lab (pictured above)
- Flame Photometry – Discovering the Emission Spectrum
- Observe a Candle
- What happens to the candle when you light it?
- Can you prove that the candle needs oxygen in order to burn?
- Can you prove that the candle produces carbon dioxide when it burns?
- What happens when you hold a piece of glass in different parts of the flame? What do these results say about the process of burning wax in a candle?
- Is it possible to light a candle without touching the flame directly to the wick? Why or why not?
- Sketch and label the flame. What part of the flame is the hottest?
- Design an inquiry experiment to compare different brands of commercial candles?
Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.
To find out about more people born in March hop on over to iHomeschool Network’s March birthdays page.