In the 1850s, Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff devised the first working spectroscopes. Two decades later, Georg Dragendorff and other scientists began using spectroscopy for medical research and criminal investigations.
The fields of toxicology and serology—the study of blood and other body fluids—were the first to benefit. A small specimen of blood, subjected to a flame from a Bunsen burner, gave off light that could be subjected to spectroscopic analysis. This analysis could reveal the presence of carbon monoxide and other poisons.
Black Box Effect
In the 1940s the Beckman spectrophotometer revolutionized the laboratory. Encased in a metal container, the device occupied less counter space than conventional bench apparatus, and hid the procedures inside a box. A technician placed a specimen on a slide, inserted it into the instrument, and recorded the readings.
Historians of science theorize that "black box" devices are basic to modern laboratory practice. A device and its output replace the hand, eye, and judgment of the scientist. The standardized inner workings and seemingly objective output of the black box can more easily evade or withstand legal scrutiny.