Sunday, 8 March 2009


NAME Archimedes

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Mathematician and Mechanic

BIRTH b287 in Syracuse, the capital of Sicily.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Archimedes came from a wealthy, noble family. His father, Phidias, was an astronomer. According to Plutarch, King Hiero II, the King of Syracuse, was a relative.

EDUCATION Young Archimedes was thought to be a pupil of Euclid in Alexandra, Egypt.

CAREER RECORD After studying in Alexandra, Archimedes returned to Sicily, where he became a well known engineer. He did not hold any public office, instead he devoted much of his time to research and experiment. During the Roman conquest of Sicily Archimedes placed his gifts at the disposal of the state and King Hiero took up his offer, getting him to design engines of war for the defence of Syracuse.

APPEARANCE Archimedes had a sparse beard and a full lock of hair.

FASHION Archimedes took little care of his person and often had to be carried by force to the baths. However once he was there, Archimedes would cover himself with oil then use his fingernail to draw mathematical diagrams on his own body. He is said to have discovered the Archimedian principle as he stepped into his bath and perceived the displaced water overflowing. If you don't know what the Archimedian principle is, be patient- all will be explained.

CHARACTER Unlike Big Ben Archimedes didn't have much time for people. The original absent-minded scientist, the novelist Joseph Conrad said of him: "He was an absent minded person with a mathematical imagination."

SENSE OF HUMOUR Archimedes was in the habit of sending to his friends in Alexandra statements of his latest theorems, but without giving proofs. Apparently some of the mathematicians there had claimed the results as their own so Archimedes sent them two that were false: "So that those who claim to discover everything, but produce no proofs of the same, may be confuted as having pretended to discover the impossible." ha ha.

RELATIONSHIPS Archimedes was devotedly married to his work. It is not known if he was married or had any children. Being related to King Hiero II, he mixed in high circles.

FOOD AND DRINK Archimedes demonstrated that pie is located between 3 10/71 and 3 10/70- whoops- wrong section -That factoid should have been filed under Mathematics.
Archimedes was the original absent minded professor (sorry, did I mention that earlier...?) and was so intent on his work he often neglected his food and drink.

LITERATURE Archimedes wrote on nearly all the mathematical subjects known in his period (but not on paper, it hadn't been invented yet). Nine of his famous treatises on geometry and hydrostatics survive today. Among his known works are On Floating Bodies, On Spirals and The Sand Reckoner. In the latter treatise, Archimedes worked out how many grains of sand were needed to fill the universe.

NATURE One treatise I haven't mentioned yet is Archimedes' Cattle Problem, a poem of 44 lines, addressed by Archimedes to Eratosthenes and the mathematicians in Alexandria. I suspect the Sicilian was not geared towards romantic poetry as in this work he challenged Eratosthenes and co to count the numbers of cattle in a herd of the sun god by solving a number of simultaneous Diophantine equations.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Archimedes was very strong, without any other manual help he managed to drag a large ship laden with passengers, crew and freight that had been lifted with great effort by a team of men onto dry land. Actually he wasn't so strong, Archimedes pulled the ship by means of a series of pulleys and cogs.

SCIENCE Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty. Archimedes is considered to be one of the leading scientific figures of classical times- here's a few reasons why.

1. Archimedes' king and patron and maybe relative, the suspicious King Hiero II asked the scientist to discover whether a certain crown was made of gold or fraudulently by some iffy goldsmith with some baser metal. Whilst stepping into a bath, Archimedes perceived the displaced water overflowing a body immersed in fluid loses weight equal to the weight of fluid it displaces. He realized that this effect could be used to determine the density of the crown. When Archimedes discovered the theory of buoyancy he went better than just shouting "oh buoy". He ran through the streets of Syracuse naked buoyantly shouting "Eureka, eureka!" . But he wasn't the first ever streaker. The Greeks habitually exercised in the nude. (Maybe his bath water was too hot.) As to how the experiment went, well it wasn't good news for the iffy goldsmith. Archimedes filled twice a tub to the brim with water, on the first occasion adding the crown then secondly with gold and silver equal in weight to that of the crown. After drying himself after each experiment, Archimedes weighed the water that overflowed. As two different amounts were spilt this proved the crown was not made of pure gold. The unfortunate jeweller was executed as a result.

2. Archimedes purportedly invented the Archimedes screw, which consists of a spiral screw revolving inside a close-fitting cylinder to expel bilge water from creaking ships. The screw that bears his name was one of the earliest kinds of pumps for raising water and it still in use in sewage plants and irrigation ditches in a number of third world countries. However according to The Independent newspaper November 3, 2007, the Archimedes screw "in fact predates Archimedes by about 400 years. Recent digs have established that earlier screws, which are capable of shifting water " uphill", were used in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the 7th century BC."

3. The Lever Though Archimedes did not invent the lever, he wrote the earliest known explanation of the principle involved. His pulley systems enabled sailors to use the principle of leverage to lift objects that would otherwise have been too heavy to move. Archimedes loved levers. He said of them: "Give me a firm place to stand and I will move the earth. "

MATHEMATICS Archimedes' geometrical discoveries of the quadrative of the parabolic area and of a spherical surface as well as of the volume of a sphere were notable achievements. Or in plain English he worked out how to measure the area of a circle. If I may elaborate a little- I promise not too much. . That the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is constant (namely, pi) and that it has a value of slightly more than 3 was recognized by both the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians. However it was Archimedes who made the first theoretical calculation of a value of pi. In demonstrating that pi is located between 3 10/71 and 3 10/70, he made a major contribution to the development of mathematics. Not only that, he also proved that the area of a circle was equal to pi multiplied by the square of the radius of the circle thus enabling the volume of a circle to be measured. Archimedes regarded this as his greatest achievement. He was so proud of this that that he requested that his tomb should include an inscription of a cylinder and a sphere of the same height and diameter, together with the formula for the ratio of their volumes.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Archimedes believed like his fellow great Greeks Socrates and Plato, that the proper application of science was to sharpen the mind and its applications were to be despised.

MILITARY RECORD The Second Punic War kicked off in 215BC and soon Roman forces under General Marcellus were laying siege to Syracuse. Archimedes constructed a succession of catapult and bow like machines in Syracuse to resist Roman onslaught. He successfully kept the Romans at bay for three years before they took the city.
While defending Syracuse Archimedes armed the soldiers with concave shields. By concentrating the sun's rays onto their souls he made the Roman soldiers believe they were facing "soldiers of fire" and thus repelled their attack .

HOMES Archimedes lived most of his life in Syracuse, though it is thought he studied in Alexandra, Egypt.

DEATH Died 212 BC When Syracuse was finally taken by the Romans after a two year siege, the Roman General Marcellus sent a Roman soldier with instructions to bring Archimedes to him. The Greek was so intent upon a mathematical diagram in his study that he didn't realise Syracuse had been taken by the Romans. When Archimedes saw the soldier he said "wait until I've solved my problem." The enraged soldier thrust his sword into him and the mathematician supposedly mumbled "Noli turbare circulos meos!" ( "Do not disturb my circles!" ) before dying. Archimedes request (See Mathematics) was granted and his tombstone include a cylinder circumscribing a sphere, accompanied by a inscription of the formula for the ratio of their volumes. In 75BC the Roman orator Cicero found his tomb near the Agrigentine gate in Syracuse, in a neglected condition. He had the tomb restored.

1. In a 1960 Italian film Siege of Syracuse, Archimedes played by the hunky Rosanno Brazzi falls in love with a gypsy dancer played by the gorgeous Tina Louise despite being engaged to the king's daughter. The YouTube clipbelow is of a dance sequence from the film featuring a very good-looking Archimedes watching his love interest dance.
2. If Archimedes ever appeared on an ancient Greek chat show, presumably he incessantly plugged his bath- ha ha! (cough)... That's my writing career down the plughole..

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Archimedes mastered all disciplines of mathematics except how to divide one toy between three small children. But then 2,000 years later this arithmetical conundrum has yet to be resolved. But seriously, he helped develop the science of geometry and initiated pyenometry (the measurement of the volume of density of an object). Archimedes was the greatest mathematician and scientist of antiquity and if you believe the Siege of Syracuse movie, he was the hunkiest scientist of antiquity too.
2. Archimedes' method of finding mathematical proof to substantiate experiment and observation made him was the father of experimental science. He applied science to everyday life such as discovering the principle of water displacement whilst taking a bath.
3. Archimedes was the first scientist to recognise the power of the lever. He invented the compound pulley and at least improved upon the Archimedes screw.
4. Archimedes' exclamation of Eureka! is the state motto of California. However, this is not because the Californians are in the habit of making important scientific discoveries whilst taking a bath. Instead it refers to 1848 discovery of gold, which ignited the California Gold Rush.

I will sign off this trivial biography of Archimedes with some poetry from William Wordsworth

--Call Archimedes from his buried tomb
Upon the plain of vanished Syracuse,
And feelingly the Sage shall make report
How insecure, how baseless in itself,
Is the Philosophy, whose sway depends
On mere material instruments;--how weak
Those arts, and high inventions, if unpropped
By virtue.--He, sighing with pensive grief,
Amid his calm abstractions, would admit
That not the slender privilege is theirs
To save themselves from blank forgetfulness!
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), The Excursion (Book Eighth: The Parsonage, lines 220-230)

(1) Book of Inventions and Discoveries McDonald 1990
(2) Harper's Book of Scientific Anecdotes Berry Books 1989.
(3) The Independent newspaper 3/11/07

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