Robert Bunsen and his Burner

Today is Robert Bunsen’s 200th Birthday – Google reminded me of this today with their front page image.

In eighth grade, I was in Mr Weidenheft’s science class at Inter-Lakes High School and my science partner was Jody Bickford. Jody and I played on the basketball team together. Everyone loved Jody she was this cute toe-headed blond that bounced around when she walked. We were friendly but I wouldn’t say we were good friends. Jody was one of the “in crowd” and I was typically found on the periphery hanging out. Anyway, I was excited to be her lab partner that day.

What I want to tell you about is one day in particular that Jody and I, double-handedly I guess, changed school policy forever. We had our first project with the Bunsen burner. (With that, I probably don’t even need to tell you the rest but if you’re still interested, read on….) I do not totally recall, but I do believe I forgot to listen during the prep lecture Mr Weidenheft gave (likely along with 75% of the class, it was eighth grade and we were all teenagers) and Jody may have as well given what was going to occur in the following fifteen minutes.

It was time. We put our goggles on and were instructed to light the Bunsen Burner. We turned on the gas full blast (for those of you who know how to properly light one, you are already seeing a potential  issue here) we fully opened the valve at the base and opened the one/hole at the bottom. Essentially we were letting gas out everywhere. With the striker in hand we tried and tried again to light the burner. Jody turned the valves on again and off again and we tried again  – OOOOOOOHHHHH BIG FLAME!!!!!! In the next few seconds we had successfully ignited everything within two feet of us including my hand and Jody’s bouncey blonde hair. It singed up a bit on one side… okay maybe a lot bit. We torched the topo map that was leaning against the wall, it melted so fast the mountain ranges had completely disappeared, most of sea-level remained. A few other things the flame caught disappeared in seconds, and panic was about the room in no time.

Mr Weidenheft, gotta love him, calmly got everything back and order and had other students escort the two of us to the nurses office immediately. Our parents were called, we were lectured for the next… oh… several days. The following week in science class, Jody with her haircut and I with a gauze wrapped hand, listened as we learned the modified best practices in case of emergency: “pull the shower chain and stand under it to wash off any chemicals or flames”, “how to properly use an eye bath” “how to properly use a Bunsen burner” oh which, by the way, will no longer be available to students until the 10th grade.

I love to think about the impact I had on my high school, the legacy I left. It’s not too bad. I was the first girl on the boys soccer team, I was the NH free throw champion and they have a dusty trophy in the case in the hall OR possibly in the trash as it may have been replaced by now AND academically no one is allowed to use the bunsen burners until they are in the tenth grade. Now that’s a legacy!

I rock.


One thought on “Robert Bunsen and his Burner

  1. I remember this incident… and I remember having to have a week of “safety in the lab” because of you two. I really didn’t see the need to learn about the eye wash and shower since I was in biology at the time. What was I going to need that safety info for… just in case I got pig or frog guts all over me!! Thanks Betsy! You did rock!

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