31 Mar 2016

Fire Good

Submitted by Chip Nataro, Lafayette College

Today (March 31st) is Robert Bunsen's 205 birthday. While many of us know him best as the scientist that developed the burner that bears his name, I can't help but wonder if the generation of chemists we are currently training will soon forget his name. I can't think of a single lab experiment at my institution where a Bunsen burner is used. And I imagine the same is true at many other institutions. And for safety reasons, I am perfectly fine with that. But it sad that he may soon be forgotten. Sure, he had some other very significant contributions to chemistry. He discovered Cesium (or Caesium if you prefer) and Rubidium. He did pioneering work in organoarsenic chemistry. While great work, these aren’t exactly chemicals that are likely to be found in an undergraduate laboratory any time soon. He was also regarded as a masterful teacher. Had VIPEr existed in his day, I am confident he would have been a member. Thanks to the wonderful chemical genealogy posted at the University of Illinois, at least two members of the leadership council and I am certain countless members of the IONiC community can trace their academic family tree back to Bunsen. He would certainly be a worthy contender to have one of the new elements names after him, Bunsium or Bunsenium (I at first though Bu but that would likely get nixed due to its use for a butyl group, so Bn perhaps).


No country has ever issued a postage stamp honoring Bunsen, which is both surprising and disappointing. The closest philatelic tribute is perhaps a U.S. stamp depicting Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, from the Muppets...