What Is a Bunsen Burner?
A Bunsen burner is a gas burner consisting of a tube with a small gas jet at the lower end and adjustable air inlet by means of which the heat of the flame can be controlled. It is used in laboratories and produces a hot non-luminous flame if the air and gas mixture is correctly adjusted. The inventor of the burner was Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-1899), a German chemist, although Michael Faraday (1791-1867), the English physicist and chemist had previously designed a burner that worked on very much the same general principle.
In 1852 the University of Heidelberg hired Bunsen and promised him a new laboratory building. The city of Heidelberg had begun to install coal-gas street lighting, and so the university laid gas lines to the new laboratory. The designers of the building intended to use the gas not just for illumination, but also in burners for laboratory operations. For any burner lamp, it was desirable to maximize the temperature and minimize luminosity. However, existing laboratory burner lamps left much to be desired not just in terms of the heat of the flame, but also regarding economy and simplicity.
While the building was still under construction in late 1854, Bunsen suggested certain design principles to the university’s mechanic, Peter Desaga, and asked him to construct a prototype. The Bunsen/Desaga design succeeded in generating a hot, sootless, non-luminous flame by mixing the gas with air in a controlled fashion before combustion. Desaga created adjustable slits for air at the bottom of the cylindrical burner, with the flame igniting at the top.
By the time the building opened early in 1855 Desaga had made 50 burners for Bunsen’s students. Two years later Bunsen published a description, and many of his colleagues soon adopted the design. Bunsen burners are now used in laboratories all around the world.
Over the years several varieties of Bunsen burners have been made with improvements in the control and mixing of the air and gas, giving greater heat and enabling different sizes of flames to be obtained. There are devices for spreading the flame and numerous fittings are made to go on the top of the tube for holding retorts, test tubes, etc. Burners may be constructed to burn coal gas, oil gas, acetylene or natural gas.