March 31st is the birthday of Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen, so it’s also Bunsen Burner Day.
Bunsen was a modest, sensible man who did plenty of important scientific work in addition to inventing the Bunsen Burner. The big deal about the Bunsen Burner is that it mixes the fuel gas with air at an earlier stage, not right at the point of combustion. This gives a steadier, safer flame.
Today is therefore a great day to work on standards from the frameworks relating to scientists and the work of science, discovery, states of matter, heat, and lab skills and safety.
In addition to being safer, the Bunsen burner flame is colorless. A steady, colorless flame allowed progress in spectroscopy. Since each element produces a particular color when it’s heated, the Bunsen burner — having no color of its own in the flame — can be used to identify the elements in a substance.
Here are some quick links for your Bunsen Burner Day celebrations:
- Once you’ve sung “Happy Birthday” and added the date to your classroom timeline, play an online science safety quiz to commemorate the day.
- The Bunsen Burner Song contains a surprising amount of information, and also provides an opportunity to debate whether “sweet combustion” really rhymes with “penultimate function.” You can listen to the song and the lyrics are provided, so you can also learn it and sing along.
- Oddly enough, there is also “Bunsen Burner” by Power Cords, a song of young love and rejection. Bring out Venn diagrams to compare the two Bunsen Burner songs. This one could also bring up some interesting questions on stereotyping and teen life.
- Check out Bytesize Science podcasts from the American Chemical Society. None specifically focuses on the Bunsen Burner, but there’s a new one every Monday, so this could be the perfect day to get in the habit of listening to them. Practice Cornell notes or other listening skills with them, and learn at the same time about the ancient jungles of France, bald peanuts, and other cool stuff. Download a PDF file for a reproducible Cornell Notes form.
- A video on how to use Bunsen Burners could be handy for a review or an introduction. You can also access a PowerPoint on the subject.
- Use a Bunsen Burner labeling page to learn or review the basics.
- “Bunsen Burner” is also a slang term for something that has a big payoff for little effort. The term comes from Cockney rhyming slang: it rhymes with “nice little earner.” There is a next step, in which “bunse” is now slang for “money.” If you would like to observe Bunsen Burner Day without bringing science into it, you could brainstorm a list of examples of bunsen burners in the economic sense. How about studying hard? See whether students will agree to adding that to the list!
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Is it true that his date of birth was really March 30th?
There is controversy on this question. Bunsen was born in Germany, where there were calendar changes at different times in different areas, with some religious issues involved. The March 30th date relies on a parish record, which might have been affected by these variations in the calendar or even by simple uncertainty — in 1811, a baby born during the night might well have been thought of as having been born “last night” even if he was born at 1:00 a.m. I haven’t found any mention of the precise time of Bunsen’s birth, so this is entirely speculation on my part.
However, the holiday Bunsen Burner Day is always celebrated on March 31st.
Careful, this is not a portrait of Robert Bunsen. This is a picture of Arthur Michael, known for the Michael reaction.
Thank you for the heads up! We have corrected the error.