The designers of the building intended to use the gas not just for illumination, but also in burners for laboratory operations. For any burner lamp, it was desirable to maximize the temperature and minimize luminosity. However, existing laboratory burner lamps left much to be desired not just in terms of the heat of the flame, but also regarding economy and simplicity.
While the building was still under construction in late 1854, Bunsen suggested certain design principles to the university’s mechanic, Peter Desaga, and asked him to construct a prototype. Similar principles had been used in an earlier burner design by Michael Faraday, as well as in a device patented in 1856 by the gas engineer R. W. Elsner.
The Bunsen/Desaga design succeeded in generating a hot, sootless, non-luminous flame by mixing the gas with air in a controlled fashion before combustion. Desaga created adjustable slits for air at the bottom of the cylindrical burner, with the flame igniting at the top. By the time the building opened early in 1855 Desaga had made 50 burners for Bunsen’s students. Two years later Bunsen published a description, and many of his colleagues soon adopted the design. Bunsen burners are now used in laboratories all around the world.
The hose barb is connected to a gas nozzle on the laboratory bench with rubber tubing. Most laboratory benches are equipped with multiple gas nozzles connected to a central gas source, as well as vacuum, nitrogen, and steam nozzles. The gas then flows up through the base through a small hole at the bottom of the barrel and is directed upward. There are open slots in the side of the tube bottom to admit air into the stream using the Venturi effect, and the gas burns at the top of the tube once ignited by a flame or spark.
The amount of air mixed with the gas stream affects the completeness of the combustion reaction. Less air yields an incomplete and thus cooler reaction, while a gas stream well mixed with air provides oxygen in a stoichiometric amount and thus a complete and hotter reaction. The air flow can be controlled by opening or closing the slot openings at the base of the barrel, similar in function to the choke in a carburettor.