Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (31 March 1811– 16 August 1899) was a German chemist. He investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered caesium (in 1860) and rubidium (in 1861) with Gustav Kirchhoff. Bunsen developed several gas-analytical methods, was a pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of organoarsenic chemistry. With his laboratory assistant, Peter Desaga, he developed the Bunsen burner, an improvement on the laboratory burners then in use. The Bunsen–Kirchhoff Award for spectroscopy is named after Bunsen and Kirchhoff.
Life and workBunsen was born in Göttingen, Germany, as the youngest of four sons of the University of Göttingen's chief librarian and professor of modern philology, Christian Bunsen (1770–1837). After attending school in Holzminden, in 1828 Bunsen matriculated at Göttingen and studied chemistry with Friedrich Stromeyer, obtaining the Ph.D. degree in 1831. In 1832 and 1833 he traveled in Germany, France, and Austria, where he met Friedrich Runge (who discovered aniline and in 1819 isolated caffeine), Justus von Liebig in Gießen, and Eilhard Mitscherlich in Bonn.
PersonalityBunsen was one of the most universally admired scientists of his generation. He was a master teacher, devoted to his students, and they were equally devoted to him. At a time of vigorous and often caustic scientific debates, Bunsen always conducted himself as a perfect gentleman, maintaining his distance from theoretical disputes. He much preferred to work quietly in his laboratory, regularly enriching his science with useful discoveries. On a point of principle, he never took out a patent, despite the fact that his new battery and new laboratory burner would surely have brought him great wealth. Bunsen never married.
Retirement and deathWhen Bunsen retired at the age of 78, he shifted his work solely to geology and mineralogy, an interest which he had pursued throughout his career. He died in Heidelberg aged 88.