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The Laboratory Gas Burner
Tirrill or Bunsen burners provide a ready source of heat in the chemistry laboratory. In general, since chemical reactions proceed faster at elevated temperatures, the use of heat enables the experimenter to accomplish many experiments more quickly than would be possible at room temperature. The burner illustrated in Fig. 1.1 is typical of the burners used in most general chemistry laboratories.
A burner is designed to allow gas and air to mix in a controlled manner. The gas often used is “natural gas,” mostly the highly flammable and odorless hydrocarbon methane, CH4. When ignited, the flame’s temperature can be adjusted by altering the various proportions of gas and air. The gas flow can be controlled either at the main gas valve or at the gas control valve at the base of the burner. Manipulation of the air vents at the bottom of the barrel allows air to enter and mix with the gas.
The hottest flame has a violet outer cone, a pale-blue middle cone, and a dark-blue inner cone; the air vents, in this case, are opened sufficiently to assure complete combustion of the gas. Lack of air produces a cooler, luminous yellow flame. This flame lacks the inner cone and most likely is smoky, and often deposits soot on objects it contacts. Too much air blows out the flame.
In the chemistry laboratory, it is often necessary to modify apparatus made from glass or to connect pieces of equipment with glass tubing. Following correct procedures for working with glass, especially glass tubing, is important. Glass is a super-cooled liquid. Unlike crystalline solids which have sharp melting points, glass softens when heated, flows, and thus can be worked. Bending, molding, and blowing are standard operations in glassworking.
Not all glass is the same; there are different grades and compositions. Most laboratory glassware is made from borosilicate glass (containing silica and borax compounds). Commercially, this type of glass is known as Pyrex (made by Corning Glass) or Kimax (made by Kimble glass). This glass does not soften very much below 800 C and, therefore, requires a very hot flame in order to work it.
A Bunsen burner flame provides a hot enough temperature for general glassworking. In addition, borosilicate glass has a low thermal coefficient of expansion. This refers to the material’s change in volume per degree change in temperature. Borosilicate glass expands or contracts slowly when heated or cooled. Thus, glassware composed of this material can withstand rapid changes in temperature and can resist cracking.
Soft glass consists primarily of silica sand, SiO2. Glass of this type softens in the region of 300–400 C, and because of this low softening temperature is not suitable for most laboratory work. It has another unfortunate property that makes it a poor material for laboratory glassware. Soft glass has a high thermal coefficient of expansion. This means that soft glass expands or contracts very rapidly when heated or cooled; sudden, rapid changes in temperature introduce too much stress into the material, and the glass cracks. While soft glass can be worked easily using a Bunsen burner, care must be taken to prevent breakage; with annealing, by first mildly reheating and then uniformly, gradually cooling, stresses and strains can be controlled.