Illustration of Bunsen burner

1855 Bunsen burner

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Robert Bunsen, Peter Desaga chemistry Illustration of Bunsen burner

Bunsen burner

Chemists need to heat and burn things. Alchemists had their ovens and retorts. Modern chemists wanted a flame that was simple, cheap, safe, hot, clean, and not bright. To take advantage of a source of coal-gas for his new laboratory, Robert Bunsen suggested design principles for a laboratory burner, possibly based on the burners of Michael Faraday or R. W. Elsner, to Peter Desaga, who built them for Bunsen and his students. The Bunsen-Desaga burners have a needle valve to adjust the flow of gas, and adjustable slits at the base to adjust the flow of air.

Common equipment

Balance, beakers, Bunsen burner, and burets. Forceps, funnels, flasks, and flint striker. Pinch clamps, pipets, and plastic policemen. Thermometers, tongs, and test tubes, check. Now we’re ready to test mysterious substances.

Flame test

The presence of rubidium turns the flame bright red; however, calcium in your sample masks its color with a brighter red. Abraham built an altar and lit a fire, but God was testing Abraham, not Isaac. Both the crucible of faith, and the crucible of doubt can blind you to the obvious.

Gradually, chemical methods were becoming standardized. New concepts (atomic theory, conservation of mass) and new tools (electrolysis and spectroscopy) were quickly filling in the periodic table and enriching industry.

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