Would you wear and use a vintage pocket watch?

Monday, March 14, 2011

How Robert Bunsen Saved the Victorian Era

'Ello, everyone! I am very glad to be back 'on the air' as they say.   Today, I would like to mention a an inventor who influenced the Victorian era, or the aftermath of it, in an unexpected way.

     Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen (30 March 1811 – 16 August 1899) was born in Gottingen, Germany, and went on to become a leader in the field of chemistry. In order to facilitate his laboratory work, he developed the gas Bunsen burner, which was simpler,  more economical, and could provide a higher-quality flame than the then-current laboratory burners. 

     Among his other notable contributions, one has a connection to one of the darkest phenomena of the Victorian era: arsenic poisoning.  Whether ingested or placed on the skin unintentionally or with intent, arsenic was a sure killer which was used indiscriminately by many people. (For example, Victoria-era ladies would place a mixture which included arsenic on their skin supposedly to treat wrinkles, arsenic was used in many 'patent medicines' peddled by quacks, it was used by legitimate medical practitioners before antibiotics were brought into use, and it was also found in certain pigments used in industry.  Bunsen himself became quite ill from arsenic poisoning. Arsenic was also one of the favorite poisons of treacherous fiends from the Middle Ages forward.)  

    Bunsen discovered that iron oxide hydrate was an antidote for arsenic poisoning; the information later made it possible for municipalities to filter arsenic from their drinking water.(Here is a link to an excerpt from a book chapter on the history of arsenic and its' use.)   He also pioneered the carbon cell battery and advanced the field of spectroscopy (spectral analysis of heated elements, using which he discovered caesium and rubidium).
     So, while he did not contribute to the steampunk genre directly, his efforts probably made the Victorian era more survivable, and thus last a wee bit longer!


Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails