Teaching Science through History
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Splendor of the Spectrum:
Bunsen, Kirchoff and the Origin of Spectroscopy

by Sam Jayakumar

Bunsen and Kirchoff Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchoff met in 1851 and, even with their strikingly different body types, became life long friends. Bunsen, a chemist, was expert at instruments, including the burner that now bears his name. Kirchoff, a physicist, was more mathematically oriented and analyzed electrical circuits. Together, they collaborated on the problem of analyzing the color of light emitted by burning different elements. Their invention of the spectroscope led them to discover two new elements and establish an important form of chemical analysis. Major NOS themes include:

  • collaboration
  • instrumentation
  • long-unsolved puzzles

Open PDF document with flowchart and images of Bunsen & Kirchoff, 1860 spectroscope, and historical cartoons of Bunsen.