(I really needed a break from anything remotely Maths related and this felt like the most productive alternative. Plus, I got to include a bit of Physics without Maths so a win-win really. I hope you enjoy it)
We made it ladies and gentlemen. We have managed to reach the end of the first cycle of our adventures and to celebrate, we’re going somewhere pretty awesome (In my opinion): Ancient Greece! However, we aren’t looking at all of Ancient Greece as that would be selling short tenfold (That’ll require many posts, which I’m happy to produce). Today we are taking a look at the work of Archimedes, an awesome inventor who is well known for his engineering achievements. Fasten your seatbelts, put on some sun cream and prepare for our trip back in time!
The year is 287 BC and we are currently hovering (The currently unnamed (I need to think about it some more) time machine can do that) above the city of Syracuse, Sicily. Syracuse was once a powerful city, witnessing many battles in its time. It is believed that Archimedes’ father was an astronomer though this is disputed over a lack of evidence. Though Syracuse was his place of birth, Archimedes is believed to have studied in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. After finishing his education in the once cultural and intellectual hub of the ancient world, Archimedes returned to his birthplace where he spent most of his life on research and experimentation.
During this time, he made some breakthroughs in Physics that we still use today (I myself have the pleasure of applying the work of Archimedes in my physics lessons (Fairly recently, as it just so happens)). He developed a method of measuring the volume of an irregular object using water and a container. The story goes that Archimedes had been commanded by King Hiero II to work out if a solid gold crown that the king had commissioned was in fact solid gold and not victim to a dishonest craftsman. Now, a crown isn’t the most accommodating shape for accurate volume measurements so Archimedes had a challenge on his hand, not helped by the fact that the crown could not be damaged or destroyed. Whilst bathing, Archimedes observed the displacement of water one expects to happen when entering a full bath. He then realised that he could use this displaced water to measure the volume relatively accurately without damaging the crown. He celebrated as anyone would upon making a scientific discovery, running naked through the streets shouting “Eureka!” (Archimedes was too excited to even contemplate dressing; it would seem). Though the credibility of this account is not solid, Archimedes is still credited with discovering this thus earning it the name of Archimedes’ Principle.
In addition to his work with volume, Archimedes also helped explain the function of levers. He was able to apply this new found knowledge to improve catapult technology and assist sailors in moving larger, heavier objects then they were capable of moving before. In terms of his contributions to modern physics, Archimedes did a fair bit.
Whilst his work with volume and levers was fantastic, he also put together some pretty snazzy inventions. The first of these was the Archimedes’ screw. At the time of his work the Syracusia was near completion. The Syracusia was the Ancient Greek equivalent of cruise liner. It was acclaimed with being able to carry 600 people, include onboard garden decorations and house both a gymnasium and a temple for Aphrodite. Naturally something quite so big as this is bound to spring a leak (Wood isn’t the most watertight material going) and here Archimedes was able to provide a solution to draining the water out: a screw propeller. The water could be pumped with ease up the ship and out over the top, far more efficient than a bucket and some poor sailor.
Archimedes not only created helpful, peaceful inventions but he also crafted some pretty nifty weaponry. The first was a huge claw. Attached to a crane, a large metal hook could be dropped onto an enemy ship and then lifted into the air, possibly sinking and thus disabling it. This invention helped defend Syracuse from Roman invasion and, coupled with his new and improved catapults, the Romans are said to have suffered heavy losses.
However, the claw wasn’t the most exciting weapon (If you can call any weapon exciting, really). Perhaps one of Archimedes’ most ingenious ideas was the use of mirrors to redirect sunlight. He was able to target Roman ships and set their sails on fire, causing an awful lot of problems. Some (Me) say that this particular use of heat rays was pretty lit (Part of me is sorry but most of me isn’t).
Despite his brilliant defences, the Romans were still able to break through and invade Syracuse. Archimedes was confronted by a Roman soldier from whom he met his demise. However, the soldier did let the man finish the equations he was working on. I can’t say I would want my final act to be equations but each to their own.
I think we can all agree that Archimedes was a pretty intelligent chap. Not only could he successfully help defend a city with unique contraptions but he also contributed to Physics with principles that are still used today. Not too shabby for a 2,304 year old dead guy.
Again, my recount of Archimedes is hardly copious so if you are interested in reading more on him, please do. You can only gain from expanding your knowledge and it’s also a rather enjoyable thing to do. As always, please leave any thoughts, questions or suggestions for future posts in the comments below.