Maker Birthdays:  Robert Bunsen

Maker Birthdays: Robert Bunsen

Although best known today for the eponymous Bunsen burner, German chemist Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (Wikipedia), born on this date in 1811, had a foundational role in many areas of modern chemistry. He discovered the use of iron oxide hydrate as a precipitating agent for arsenic, which even today has applications in treating contaminated groundwater. His experiments with arsenic cost him an eye (by an explosion of pyrophoric tetramethyldiarsine) and almost cost him his life, by poisoning. He invented the Bunsen cell, an early electrochemical “battery” that improved upon existing designs by replacing precious metallic platinum with common carbon in the cathode. He used his new cell, among other things, to isolate pure magnesium for the first time, by electrolysis. With Kirchoff, he was instrumental in the development of flame-emission spectroscopy, and used the technique, for which his famous burner was developed, to discover two then-unknown elements–cesium and rubidium. He was, even among the acerbic European academic chemists of his day, widely regarded for his kindness, even temperament, and good character. He died in 1899, aged 88.

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Maker Birthdays:  Linus Pauling

Maker Birthdays: Linus Pauling

Yesterday, February 28, 2010, Linus Carl Pauling would’ve been 109 years old. And we’d all be better off he were still with us since, by all accounts, even a doddering Pauling could’ve run rings around most folks intellectually. One of four human beings ever to have been awarded multiple Nobel Prizes, and the only one ever to have won both the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1954) and the Nobel Peace Prize (1962). His 1939 Nature of the Chemical Bond remains one of the most influential chemistry texts ever published, and his 1947 General Chemistry, available in its classic 3rd edition through Dover Publications for a song, remains one of the best-written and most readable introductions to the subject. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for his instrumental role in scientific activism to end above-ground nuclear weapons testing. A complete list of Pauling’s accolades could, and has, filled several books, but I can’t resist mentioning, in closing, that geek ubermensch Linus Torvalds is reportedly named after him.

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