Perhaps the greatest mathematician to ever have lived was Archimedes of Syracuse. Besides being a mathematician, he was a physicist, inventor, astronomer, and engineer.
Sadly, most information on Archimedes’ childhood is lost. Some believe he was related to King Hiero II of Syracuse, others believe his father was an astronomer, while others believe it was both. No one knows if he ever married or had a family.
Today, Archimedes deserves respect and admiration for his many discoveries and inventions, his theories of mathematics, and his intellectual writings.
He left Syracuse as a young boy, to attend the University of Alexandria in Egypt where he met and studied with other famous scientists.
What is today known as the ‘Archimedes Principle’ was born out of an interesting story.
King Hiero II had supplied a goldsmith with a pure chunk of gold, to make him a golden crown. The king thought that the goldsmith had tricked him by mixing some silver with it instead.
He called Archimedes to test the crown to see if it had the full amount of gold without melting the crown. Archimedes found the answer in his bathtub, that the level of water increased and spilled out when he got in.
He then understood that the amount of water that fell out was equal to his body weight.
He was so excited by his discovery that he forgot to get dressed and ran out onto the streets screaming “Eureka! Eureka” which means, “I found it, I found it”.
This is called the Archimedes Principle, which means that anything that is sunk fully or partially in liquid is pushed up by a force (buoyancy) which is measured by the amount of liquid that spills out.
This explains why certain objects float (like boats and ships), while others sink (like a stone).
Therefore, for an object to float, it has to be able to displace an amount of liquid that is equal to its own weight.
Ultimately Archimedes’ experiment confirmed that the goldsmith and indeed tricked the king and mixed silver.
His experiments with water led him to also discover density and specific gravity.
Archimedes invented the mechanism behind the modern water drainage systems used in agricultural projects.
Archimedes’ screw was a spiral shaped screw that was placed inside a cylinder. This cylinder was put in water, and as the screw turned water could be drawn to the top.
Archimedes’ screw was fixed onto the largest ship built in ancient history to take out extra water from its hull. He designed this ship, which could carry 600 people
He also built a device that was used in ancient wars that could raise a ship out of the water and sink it. This was called the Claw of Archimedes, and modern experiments prove it is a workable instrument.
Another instrument that was built by Archimedes to be used during wars was called Archimedes’ Heat Ray. This weapon used many mirrors to focus sunlight onto an approaching ship causing it to catch fire.
Archimedes explained the theory behind using a lever, which had been used by man for many years before he was even born.
He used the principle of the lever to build pulley systems for sailors, improved the catapult, and invented the odometer (a device that measured the distance travelled by a vehicle.
He contributed to mathematics by measuring the circle and introducing the concept of powers (when numbers are multiplied by themselves – eg: number 1 with 62 zeros after it was written as 1 x 1062), which is what we use today in the multiplications table.
He determined the exact value of Pi, in integral calculus, and devised a solution called the Quadrature of the Parabola.
Although most of his writings have been lost, some of them are still available.
His achievements were so great, that once after he managed to draw a large ship onto land with the help of the pulley system he developed, the king passed a law that anything that Archimedes spoke was to be considered true.
Even during the long wars with the Romans, the Roman emperor wanted to capture Archimedes alive, because he had heard such great stories about him.
Sadly, a soldiers who did not recognize Archimedes, killed him even after Archimedes told him “don’t disturb my circles”, which the wise man was working when the soldeire entered.
Today, there is a crater in the moon, a large lunar mountain rained, an asteroid, the Field’s Medal (for great work in mathematics), and a postage stamp named after him. His statement “Eureka” is the state motto of California.