Traveling with the Atom

Allegheny College

Compiled by Glen E. Rodgers
Andrea Price

Drawing of Spectroscope that appeared in Kirchhoff's and Bunsen's 1860 paper entitled "Chemical Analysis by Observation of Spectra."(Photo source: Classic Papers from the History of Chemistry webpage)

Robert Bunsen, Kirchhoff's partner and co-discoverer of cesium and rubidium (Photo source:  ChemTeam Photo Gallery)

Gustav Kirchhoff
German Physicist

Contribution to the Development of the Atomic Concept
Gustav Robert Kirchhoff was born in Koenigsberg, German in 1824.  He attended the University of Koenigsberg until 1947, when he began to lecture in Berlin and Breslau.  He taught at the University of Heidelberg, where he collaborated with Robert Bunsen from 1854-1875.  One major contribution to the field of science includes the formation of laws pertaining to electrical currents.  His greatest achievement was the formation of a basis for spectroscopy.  He discovered that every element, when burned in a Bunsen burner flame (designed by and named for his partner), exhibits a characteristic spectrum of light.  He designed an instrument that would split the light given off by a flame into lines of it's component wavelengths.  The critical insight that Kirchhoff offered was that when a source of white light was shown through a gas and split with a prism, an absorption spectrum was observed instead of the emission spectrum.  The dark lines of the absorption spectrum exactly mirrored the emission spectrum observed in the Bunsen burner flame.  These discoveries and the development of the spectroscope led to the development of a method by which one could identify the components of a substance by the signature lines in its spectrum.  The foundation of spectroscopy was instrumental in discovering many new elements, including cesium and rubidium, which Kirchhoff and Bunsen discovered themselves in 1860 and 1861, respectively, thallium, indium, gallium, helium, yttberbium, among others.  Finally, Kirchhoff's work proved theories about black blody radiation that comprises the groundwork of quantum theory.  

Web Sources of Biographical Information
HAO (High Altitude Observatory) History Web Pages: Gustav Kirchhoff (1824-1887)
Slider Encyclopeadia:  Kirchhoff, Gustav Robert
Web link #3 (put in descriptive title)

Some Web Sources on the History of Atomic Scientists:
The History of Chemistry 1992 Woodrow Wilson Summer Institute
Selected Classic Papers from the History of Chemistry
Classic Papers from the History of Chemistry (and Some Physics too)
Classic Chemistry compiled by Carmen Giunta
History of Science website by Charlesworth
Center for the History of Physics
Echo Exploring & Collecting History Online
Atom: The Incredible World: The History of Atomistics
Nobel Prize WebPage
Biographies of Famous Chemists, University of Liverpool
University of Pennsylvania Biographies
Chemistry: A History
Famous Scientists greatly who contributed to "electro" science: electricity, electromagnetism,
electrical technology, electronics, electrical telegraphy, radio, electrochemistry, electromedicine, etc.
Elements and Atoms: Case Studies in the Development of Chemistry

Selected Biographical Books, Sections of Books, and Articles
Sacks, Oliver.  Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Knopf, New York: 2001. pp. 215-220
Asimov, Isaac.   Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology.  Doubleday, Garden City: 1982 pp. 428-429
Title of Biography #1 Title of Biography #2 home page
Barnes and Noble home page

Some Scientific/Historical Traveling Sites
Description of Site #1 Address &/or Directions to Site #1
Description of Site #2 Address &/or Directions to Site #2
Description of Site #3 Address &/or Directions to Site #3
Find a Grave Website
Add or subtract sites as necessary or required.
Connect links to site descriptions if available.
Sites include birthplaces, homes, labs, museums, statues, graves.
Erase these notes afterwards.
* see following Rodgers link to scientific/historical sites for further information.
(1) Taken from The Scientific Traveler, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1992).
(2) Taken from A Travel Guide to Scientific Sites of the British Isles, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1995).
(3) Taken from Guide of Eurpoean Museums with collections on History of Chemistry, compiled by Jan W. van Spronsen, Federation of European Societies, Antwerp (1996)

Links to Dr. Rodgers' Scientific/Historical Sites will be available here.

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