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The Bunsen Burner – What is it and how to use it safely

Oct 28,2021 by Edulab

One of the most common pieces of laboratory equipment is the Bunsen burner. Bunsen burners have been used in science since 1855 and were invented by Robert Bunsen, a German chemist. He worked at the University of Heidelberg and a new lab was designed which had coal-gas lines fitted. Doctor Robert Bunsen and the mechanic at the university, Peter Desaga, set out to create a new burner design which could make use of the coal gas lines. They quickly came up with the Bunsen burner, which is still a critical piece of lab equipment today.

What Is A Bunsen Burner?

Bunsen burners are a piece of equipment which produce a sootless, hot and non-luminous flame which can be used for various science experiments. Look at any picture of a chemistry lab and you’ll see these burners on a laboratory bench.

The flame is created by the gas and oxygen being mixed in a controlled environment, which provides precise regulation for the size and heat of the burner. They are connected to a gas valve using rubber tubing, making them suitable for use in all laboratories with gas lines.

A Bunsen burner flame sits at the mouth of the tube at the top of the equipment, and can be effective for creating a convection current. Standard natural rubber tubing has been used for many years, but you can also use tubes made from neoprene or a tube made from a polymer blend like Enduraflex. These types of tube tend to be longer lasting and more resilient than the standard type.

Other parts of a Bunsen burner include the gas inlet which connects to the rubber tube, the air control vent, the barrel, and the base. The air hole and control vent are essential for setting the amount of air in the instrument and controlling the size and type of the flame.

What Are the Three Types Of Flame On A Bunsen Burner?

A Bunsen burner can create different types of flame which are suitable for different scenarios. The three main types of Bunsen burner flames are:

Yellow Flame

A yellow flame is also known as a safety flame because it is easy to see in a bright room. A safe flame can be achieved by fully closing the air hole and reaches temperatures of around 300 degrees.

Blue Flame

This particular flame on a burner can get as hot as 500 degrees. It can be difficult to see in a bright room and is created when the air hole is partially open.

Roaring Blue Flame

The hottest setting for Bunsen burner flames is the roaring blue flame. This is what happens when the air hole is fully open, and it can reach temperatures of 700 degrees.

What Are Bunsen Burners Used for In a Laboratory?

There are hundreds of science experiments which require a Bunsen burner, and this is one of the most commonly used pieces of equipment in any lab. Fractional distillation experiments are often taught in school laboratories with a Bunsen burner because they teach students the importance of everyday fuels and how they can be separated from crude petroleum.

Bunsen burners are also often used for sterilising other instruments because the flame creates an updraft that helps to prevent bacteria from settling on nearby containers. Other uses include heating chemicals in test tubes and beakers, or combusting other materials. Almost any experiment which requires a heat source could use a Bunsen burner.

How Do You Safely Use a Bunsen Burner?

A Bunsen burner is an open flame, and proper care and attention must be taken when using these in a lab. This kind of equipment is a fire hazard, and they burn at an extremely high temperature which could potentially cause an accident if not used properly. Here are few things to keep in mind when using a Bunsen burner:

  • They should never be placed underneath shelves, light fixtures, or other equipment. Keep at least 12 inches of space clear above a Bunsen burner.
  • The area you are working in must be clear of other materials, including notebooks, paper, and other chemicals.
  • Long hair must be tied back, and jewellery or loose clothing should be avoided.
  • Always inspect the rubber tubing for holes, cracks or any defect which could cause a leak. Replace any hoses or tubes which are damaged.
  • Never light a Bunsen burner flame with a match, instead use a lighter with an extended nozzle.
  • Have your lighter ready to go before turning on the gas tap.
  • Always leave the flame as a safe flame when not in use.
  • Never leave a Bunsen burner unattended, even on the safety flame.
  • Turn off the gas as soon as you have finished the experiment.
  • Let the equipment cool down completely after use and do not handle it while it is still hot.