In the early 19th century, scientists all over the world began to study light and colors. In the beginning, not much was known about colors and what caused certain shades to appear. It wasn’t until 1859 when two German scientists created the foundation for the study of spectroscopy and colors (Historical Introduction to Spectroscopy).
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen grew a fascination with light when he first observed that certain colors were emitted when chemicals were burned under his flame lamp invention, the Bunsen Burner (Scratch). Why did some chemicals create a bright yellow flame, while other chemicals created an intense red color flame? In 1854, he teamed up with German scientist Gustav Robert Kirchhoff to help find a reasoning behind this phenomenon (Scratch). Kirchoff suggested to take the light from the flame, and shoot it through a prism. Together they found that the prism would separate the light into a spectrum of different colors (Spectroscopy). Through the use of Bunsen’s flame and a prism, the two scientists were able to create the spectroscope (Scratch).
In 1859, Bunsen and Kirchoff made an important discovery that would revolutionize the study of spectroscopy and elements (Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff). They noticed that each element had their own unique signature of colors. With this information, scientists could now find new elements. Prior to this time, the first 50 elements were discovered through “electrolysis” or “were products of chemical reactions” (Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff). With the spectroscope, if a chemical displays a new set of spectral lines never seen before, the chemical was composed of undiscovered new elements. This created a new race to discover new elements.
A year later, Bunsen an...
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Historical Introduction to Spectroscopy. (n.d.). Australia Telescope National Facility. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://www.atnf.csiro.au/outreach/education/senior/astrophysics/spectro_history.html
Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff. (n.d.). Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/online-resources/chemistry-in-history/themes/the-path-to-the-periodic-table/bunsen-and-kirchhoff.aspx
Scratch, L. (n.d.). Robert Bunsen. Chemistry Explained. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://www.chemistryexplained.com/Bo-Ce/Bunsen-Robert.html#b
Spectroscopy. (n.d.). Zoom Astronomy Glossary. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/astronomy/glossary/spectroscopy.shtml
The Element Rubidium. (n.d.). It's Elemental. Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele037.html
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