Classical antiquity was a turbulent time but, in turn, full of new advances and development of science so important that, without the Middle Ages, we would surely have come much further from where we are.
Although the majority of the population is illiterate and uneducated, there were not a few great men who lived during this time, including Archimedes, a great mathematician, physicist and inventor of artefacts for civilian and, above all, military purposes. .
Then we will see the life and the great contributions to science of this researcher through this biography of Archimedes, and we will better understand how the bases appeared, although primitive, than with the passage of almost 2000 years, this would be our modern scientific method.
Archimedes of Syracuse: biography and contributions to science
Archimedes was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, engineer, and astronomer who lived in the days of ancient Greece around 2000 years ago. At that time, few people had the privilege of knowing how to read and write, so there is not much writing about him and all we know about this inventor comes from oral tradition and the testimonies of various classical writers. , the later to Archimedes.
His homeland was Syracuse, a city located in Magna Graecia, a region settled on the island of Sicily and in the south of the Italian peninsula.. The ruler of this city, who ruled it like a tyrant, was Hieron II who is believed to be related in some way to Archimedes. Regardless of their parentage, the two had a very interesting relationship, as HERION II relied on the mathematician to be an adviser and inventor in the defense of the city.
Little is known about Archimedes’ family. Not much is known about his mother, but about his father Phidias, an astronomer who passed on his interest in the science of the firmament. He does not appear to have married or had children, and if he did, it has been erased from the annals of history. We also cannot confirm if he said his famous “eureka” while walking naked in the streets of his hometown, nor if he really said the phrase “give me one foot and I will make the world move. “.
Archimedes was born in 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily. Thanks to an excerpt from his book “The Sand Counter”, we know that his father was called Phidias and that he was a well-known astronomer of the time. Seeing Phidias that his son was showing great skills from an early age, he decided to introduce him to the world of mathematics and astronomy.
Thanks to his great aptitudes and his good relations with the king of Syracuse Hieron II, Archimedes was sent to Alexandria in 243 BC, the science center of the time, to broaden his knowledge in mathematics under the teaching of the eminences of the ‘time. Among his teachers was the Canon of Samos, a great mathematician from whom the young Archimedes learned a lot. After his stay in the Egyptian city, Archimedes returned to his homeland to begin his research.
Service for the Fatherland
On his return from Alexandria Archimedes Was accepted as advisor to Hieró II, being responsible for designing systems and devices that will help in the defense of the city. Under the protection and patronage of the monarch, the young mathematician was entirely free to do all kinds of experiments, provided that they benefited the king and Syracuse. To have Hieró II Archimedes as a patron would open an era of in-depth research and great progress.
One of the most important episodes of this period for his career was when the king ordered the construction of the largest ship ever built, with such bad luck that when he put it to sea he s is found stuck. As even with brute force, the ship could not be removed, Hiero II ordered Archimedes to successfully put the ship back afloat. Thus, Archimedes designed a system of composite pulleys that increased the pushing force, moving the ship almost effortlessly, laying the foundations for his leverage law.
Another of the most important moments in Archimedes’ life was when the king asked him to resolve a doubt that made him drowsy. The monarch wanted to know if his crown was really solid gold or if it had been deceived and its interior was made of a less valuable material.. This problem turned out to be a real headache for Archimedes, as he didn’t know how to fix this problem without splitting the crown in half and looking inside.
The Greek scientist knew that the density of the crown had to be found, and since it weighed the same as a gold bar, the answer had to be found in its volume. The problem was that at the time there was no known way to calculate the volume of irregular objects. Legend has it that he discovered how to do it while bathing. As he stepped into the tub, he saw the water level rising. The amount of water that rose was directly proportional to the volume of the submerged body.
From this he concluded that, if he submerged the crown and measured the change in the water level, he could know exactly what its volume was. This was one of his great discoveries and, for this reason, was known as Archimedes’ Principle. It is said that, faced with such a finding, he came out of the euphoric tub shouting “eureka”, naked in the streets of Syracuse to the surprised look of the pedestrians.
Conflict in Syracuse
During the year 213 BC Roman soldiers attacked Syracuse and besieged its inhabitants to surrender. This action was led by Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a prominent Roman soldier and politician baptized the sword of Rome, a key figure in the Second Punic War. The war lasted for two years, during which the inhabitants of Syracuse fought the Romans with courage, tenacity and ferocity, among which Archimedes who played a very important role in the defense of the city.
But unfortunately, the city ended up falling. Marc Claudius Marcellus, who knew Archimedes’ great intellectuals, explicitly ordered not to hurt or kill him, since he wanted him among his advisers. However, whether through the ignorance or the ineptitude of his own subordinates, Archimedes died at the hands of one of the Roman soldiers in 212 BC there are four versions of what happened.
The four dead of Archimedes
One version says that Archimedes was solving a math problem when the Roman soldier approached him. The mathematician land asked for a little time to fix the problem and it shouldn’t please the soldier, Who decided to end his life.
Another version explains that Archimedes was solving a mathematical problem during the capture of Syracuse. A Roman soldier entered his enclosure and ordered him to meet Marcellus, to which the mathematician responded by replying that he wanted to solve the problem he was working on. The soldier, annoyed by the answer, killed Archimedes in disobedience to Marcellus.
There is a third version which explains that Archimedes had in his hands many mathematical instruments. soldier he saw it, thinking he must be carrying valuables or some kind of weapon to defeat the Roman invaders, so without even thinking twice, he ended the life of the mathematician.
Finally, the fourth most realistic version tells that Archimedes was crouched on the ground, contemplating one of his plans. While he was studying, a Roman soldier approached him from behind. not knowing it was the Greek genius, he decided to shoot him in the back.
After his death
More than 130 years after his death, in 137 BC the Roman writer, politician and philosopher Marc Tulius Cicero held a post in the administration of Rome and wanted to find Archimedes’ tomb. It was not easy for him, because Cicero could not find anyone to tell him the exact place where the mathematician had been buried.
Despite the unknowns and total ignorance of where Archimedes’ remains were located, Cicerón was able to locate the tomb, very near the gate of Agrigento. His resting place was in a state of repair deplorable, so Cicero decided to clean up his grave and, to his surprise, found that it was inscribed on a sphere inside a cylinder, alluding to one of his discoveries.
Contributions to science
While the passage of time and the obscurity of the Middle Ages caused much of the knowledge of antiquity to be lost forever, there is not a little knowledge attributed to Archimedes that has succeeded in reaching the present day. Among the highlights we have the following:
1. Archimedes’ principle
The Archimedes Principle is surely the most famous and important inheritance of Greek. Quite accidentally, Archimedes discovered how to calculate the volume of any object, whether or not it has a regular shape.
This principle says that any body immersed, partially or totally in a fluid (liquid or gas) receives an upward thrust equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. In other words, depending on the volume of the object, the fluid will rise more or less, regardless of the weight of the object itself.
This principle made it possible not only to know the volume of any object but also has played a key role in perfecting the flotation of ships, lifeboats, submarines and hot air balloons, Inventions which, although much later than Archimedes, would not exist without their discoveries.
2. Principle of the lever
Before modern cranes were invented to move heavy objects, it was necessary to use brute force. Constructing buildings was a labor-intensive task and sometimes it was impossible to construct them for lack of men.
Fortunately, Archimedes he found the solution using one of the most basic and fundamental principles of physics and mechanics. He observed that placing an object at one end of a properly balanced table with a fulcrum could move anything with relative effort.
3. Progress in mathematics
There are many mathematical advances attributed to the figure of Archimedes. Among them, one needs to accurately calculate the number Pi, make the first approximations of the calculus system, and find out that the ratio of the volume of a sphere to the cylinder in which it is located is 2: 3, which is how to be represented in his tomb in his honor.
4. Mechanical method
Another of Archimedes’ most interesting contributions was the inclusion of a purely mechanical method in the reasoning and argumentation of geometric problems, Unheard of in its time. Until then, geometry was considered a purely theoretical science and it was common to think that pure mathematics was downgraded to other more practical sciences which might be more useful for war and civil purposes.
Archimedes, in a letter to his friend Eratosthenes, states that with his mechanical method he can approach mathematical questions through mechanics. It also indicates that it is easier to construct the proof of a geometric theorem if one has prior practical knowledge than to make a hypothesis in theory. This new research method would become the precursor of the informal stage of discovery and formulation of hypotheses typical of the current scientific method.
5. The odometer
As surprising as it may sound, Archimedes invented the first odometer. Known as the odometer it was a device built on the principle of a wheel which, when turned, activates the gears that allow you to calculate the distance traveled.
6. The first planetarium
Based on what has been said by many classical writers, including Cicero, Ovid, Claudius, the Marcian Chapel, Casiodorus, the Sixth Empiricist and Lactantius, Archimedes is considered to have invented the first planetarium.
He probably built two, according to Cicero. One of them represented the Earth and several constellations close to it, while another, which had only one rotation, represented the Sun, the Moon, the planets which carried out their own independent movements relative to each other. to fixed stars.
7. The Archimedean snail
Archimedes invented a screw which it allowed the water to be carried from the bottom to the top through a slope. According to Diodorus, this invention facilitated irrigation in the fertile lands of the Nile in ancient Egypt, as traditional tools involved mobilizing a lot of human effort.
This cylinder had inside a screw of the same length which kept interconnected a system of propellers which performed a rotary movement driven manually by a rotary lever. So the propellers managed to push any substance up and down, forming a kind of endless circuit.
8. Archimedes’ harp
Archimedes’ claw, also called an iron fist, it was one of the most formidable weapons of war created by the mathematician, crucial in the defense of Sicily against Roman invasions.
It was a large lever that had a grip hook attached to the lever by means of a chain hanging from it. Using this lever, the hook was manipulated so that it would rush at the enemy ship, hooking it up and causing it to either tip over or hit rocks on the shore.
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- Kires, M. (2007) Archimedes’ principle of action. PE
- Parra, I. (2009) Archimedes: his life, works and contributions to modern mathematics. Digital magazine Mathematics, education and the Internet.