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Our Inspiration > Archimedes




"Give me a point of support and I will move the earth."

Born in 287 B.C. in Syracuse, a Greek seaport colony in Sicily, Archimedes is considered to be one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Known as 'the wise one' or 'the master', he was often called to the service of Kings Hiero and Gelon, who considered him a trusted friend. Archimedes was also a friend of Eratosthenes, who measured the radius of the earth.
Archimedes' inventions were applied equally to the pursuit of peace, such as Archimedes' (water) Screw, as they were to the defence of his homeland - Archimedes Claw. Perhaps best remembered for his practical achievements (Archimedes principle), Archimedes considered his theoretical work to be his finest legacy. Among his many theoretical activities was the summation nEn2, the first example of the systematic treatment of higher series. He also succeeded in finding the area of segment of parabola (the curve that Galileo, sixteen centuries after used to describe the trajectory of a projectile). His works to measure volumes limited by curved surfaces anticipate the solution of problems, which were treated by integral calculus almost 2000 years after Archimedes death. In 212 B.C., during a siege of his city, Archimedes' alleged last words to the Roman soldier about to kill him were "Don't disturb my circles", indicating the first exact expressions for the volume and surface area of a sphere. As a proof of the admiration that Archimedes raised since classic times, we can say that Pling calls him 'the god of mathematics' and that Cicero relates that he himself discovered Archimedes' tomb "at the top [of which] was placed a sphere with a cylinder [surrounding it].

Ask the scientist?

- Why does my bath overflow?
- Who is the strongest man on Earth?

Curriculum Vitae

287 B.C. Archimedes birth in Syracuse, (then) Greek colonised Sicily
275 B.C Hieros executes military takeover of Syracuse
270-264 B.C. (est.) Thought to have studied in Euclid School in Alexandria, Egypt
During travels to Egypt, creates concept for Archimedes Screw
264-241 B.C. The First Punic War
Archimedes proves to King Hiero II that he can '…move the earth'
Archimedes shouts 'Eureka' as he finds a solution to Hiero's gold crown question
218-201 B.C. The Second Punic War
Archimedes, as King Hiero's military advisor, builds devices to defend Syracuse: Catapults, The Claw, and Burning Mirror
212 B.C. Archimedes dies and his tomb bears his most treasured work on Constants
The above dates for Archimedes' movements, writings and inventions are historical approximations


MATHEMATICS: anticipated integrals and differential calculus, and formulated a method for measuring the area of sections bound by geometric figures; calculated the most accurate approximation of p for that time (between 3-1/2 and 3-10/71); established Archimedes' Principle; formulated Archimedes' Constant; Archimedean Solids; The Cattle Problem; and more.

MECHANICS AND ENGINEERING: invented simple but effective leverage and pulley systems, leading to the Archimedes Claw (used to pull ships out of the water); built Archimedes' (water) Screw, a pump system designed for irrigation, emptying bilge-water; designed miniature planetaria; established Law of Bouyancy; Law of Levers; and more.

WRITINGS: On the sphere and cylinder (two books); On plane equilibriums (two books); Quadrature of the parabola ; On spirals ; On conoids and spheroids ; On floating bodies (two books); Measurement of the circle ; The Sandreckoner ; The method (the order that these books appeared is not certain, no accompanying dates have been found).

Talk Back

Bath time…
The story goes that Archimedes was taking a bath while he pondered the problem of the missing gold in King Hiero's crown. He wanted to devise an accurate way to measure the different weights of metals to be able to confidently accuse the goldsmiths of replacing some of the gold given to make King Hiero's crown with an equal weight of silver. The problem was Archimedes could not analyse the damage to the crown in any way because it had been placed on the statue of a god or goddess and was therefore sacred.

Pondering the problem one day as he prepared to bathe, he noticed the water rise when he entered, and he deduced that the weight entering the water displaces the equivalent weight in water. Accounts of what happened next differ, but the essence of the story is that Archimedes - in his rush to tell King Hiero of his discovery - ran down the street shouting 'Eureka' (I have found it).

Applying what would now be explained as a 'non-destructive testing', Archimedes apparently put a weight of gold - known to be pure - equivalent to the crown into a vessel filled with water. Next, he would have transferred the crown into the vessel. An alloy of a lighter metal, such as silver, would increase the bulk of the crown and cause the vessel to overflow as before. Archimedes' test proved that the goldsmith manufacturing the crown cheated King Hiero. A legend was born.

Levering his relationship with King Hiero
Not overflowing with modesty, Archimedes once asserted to King Hiero

Image Image (click the icon to hear this spoken)

For those who do not understand Greek, this can be translated as:"Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth."

Astonished by this bold declaration, King Hiero asked him to prove it. The legend has it that there was a dry docked ship in the harbour that, despite the efforts of all the men in Syracuse, would not budge. Hiero challenged Archimedes to launch the ship single-handedly. Archimedes, who had long been working on the properties of levers and pulleys, had a trick up his sleeve. He built a machine that allowed him to leverage enough weight off the ship to launch it.

An example of Archimedes' use of levers is shown in his famous invention, Archimedes Claw:


The Archimedes Prize


The Archimedes Prize is the European Commission's top prize for undergraduate students. Each year several scientific themes or challenges are set for the prize.

For more information consult: CORDIS/improving/awards/archimedes.htm



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