<p><strong>Powered by a virtual Bunsen burner, Thursday's <a href="http://www.google.com/doodle4google/history.html">Google doodle</a> celebrates the 200th birthday of <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/84752/Robert-Wilhelm-Bunsen">Robert Bunsen</a>. But the German chemist accomplished a lot more than perfecting the iconic little lab stoves (pictured in a file photo of men testing fire retardants).</strong></p><p>Bunsen's tweaking of the burner design—Bunsen-like burners existed before their namesake—turned out to be vital to a larger goal: helping to pioneer the field of spectral analysis, or spectroscopy.</p><p>In spectral analysis, "every element sends out a specific color when heated with a flame," explained Bunsen scholar Christine Nawa.</p><p>"And only the Bunsen burner was able to create colorless, very hot flames, so that one could see the color of each element clearly," said Nawa, a visiting fellow at the<a href="http://www.chemheritage.org/"> Chemical Heritage Foundation</a> in Philadelphia.</p><p><em>—Brian Handwerk</em></p>

Bunsen Burner and Spectroscopy

Powered by a virtual Bunsen burner, Thursday's Google doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Robert Bunsen. But the German chemist accomplished a lot more than perfecting the iconic little lab stoves (pictured in a file photo of men testing fire retardants).

Bunsen's tweaking of the burner design—Bunsen-like burners existed before their namesake—turned out to be vital to a larger goal: helping to pioneer the field of spectral analysis, or spectroscopy.

In spectral analysis, "every element sends out a specific color when heated with a flame," explained Bunsen scholar Christine Nawa.

"And only the Bunsen burner was able to create colorless, very hot flames, so that one could see the color of each element clearly," said Nawa, a visiting fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.

—Brian Handwerk

Photograph by B. Anthony Stewart, National Geographic

Robert Bunsen: Breakthroughs Bigger Than the Burner

A lab flame fuels Wednesday's Google doodle for Robert Bunsen's 200th birthday. But the chemist did much more than better his burner.

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