Archimedes (287-212 BC)

Archimedes (287-212 BC), preeminent Greek mathematician and inventor, who wrote important works on plane and solid geometry, arithmetic, and mechanics. Archimedes was born in Syracuse, Sicily, and educated in Alexandria, Egypt. In pure mathematics he anticipated many of the discoveries of modern science, such as the integral calculus, through his studies of the areas and volumes of curved solid figures and the areas of plane figures. He also proved that the volume of a sphere is two-thirds the volume of a cylinder that circumscribes the sphere.

In mechanics, Archimedes defined the principle of the lever and is credited with inventing the compound pulley. During his stay in Egypt he invented the hydraulic screw for raising water from a lower to a higher level. He is best known for discovering the law of hydrostatics, often called Archimedes’ principle, which states that a body immersed in fluid loses weight equal to the weight of the amount of fluid it displaces. This discovery is said to have been made as Archimedes stepped into his bath and perceived the displaced water overflowing, and after iewing that had ran outside into the streets naked screaming “Eureka! (I found it! )” Archimedes spent the major part of his life in Sicily, in and around Syracuse.

He did not hold any public office but devoted his entire lifetime to research and experiment. During the Roman conquest of Sicily, however, he placed his gifts at the disposal of the state, and several of his mechanical devices were employed in the defense of Syracuse. Among the war machines attributed to him are the catapult and-perhaps legendary-a mirror system for focusing the sun’s rays on the invaders’ oats and igniting them. After the capture of Syracuse during the Second Punic War, Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier who found him drawing a mathematical diagram in the sand.

It is said that Archimedes was so absorbed in calculation that he offended the intruder merely by remarking, “Do not disturb my diagrams. ” Several of his works on mathematics and mechanics survive, including Floating Bodies, The Sand Reckoner, Measurement of the Circle, Spirals, and Sphere and Cylinder. They all exhibit the rigor and imaginativeness of his mathematical thinking.

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