Eureka! Archimedes Did What?!

Eureka! Archimedes Did What?!

As we venture into ancient Greece, we meet all sorts of influential people such as Socrates, Plato, Homer, and Archimedes.

Archimedes…who was he? Let’s find out!

Archimedes and His Scientific Beginnings

Not much is known about Archimedes and growing up. He was born in Syracuse, Sicily in 287 BC. Syracuse, at that time, was a self-governing colony of Greece, located on the island of Sicily.

Syracuse, Sicily

His father was an astronomer named Phidias. It’s thought he may have been related to Hiero II, who was the ruler of Syracuse.

Archimedes spent much of his youth in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria was an important spot for education, and hub of Greek culture.

Archimedes studied all kinds of stuff like math, physics, engineering, and astronomy. He moved back to Syracuse and eventually ended up working for Hiero II.

What’s His Claim To Fame?

Archimedes is known as the most famous mathematician and inventor in ancient Greece! He is called the “Father of Mathematical Physics,” and the “Father of Integral Calculus.”

The work that he accomplished and some of the things he invented are still used to this day!

His most famous bit of work, the Archimedes Principle, is known today as the law of buoyancy.

Basically, something which is dunked in fluid will experience a buoyant force equal to the weight of the fluid it displaces.

Did you ever sit down in a kiddie pool or bathtub full of water? What happened to the water? Sploosh, over the sides!

You sure displaced a lot of water!

There’s an interesting, possibly made-up story, which goes along with Archimedes' buoyancy experiments.

gold crown

The ruler Hiero II, had given raw gold to a metalsmith and asked that a crown be made. When the metalsmith gave Hiero the crown, it was rumored the metalsmith had kept some of the gold and substituted silver.

How could Hiero know for sure?

Hiero asked some of his advisors to find out if this was true or not. They couldn’t figure it out, not without damaging the crown.

Archimedes mulled over the problem for a while. It’s said the answer came to him as he was getting ready to take a bath.

He noticed the water splashing over the sides of the bath as he got in. The answer to solve the mystery of the crown hit him!

Supposedly, he jumped out of the bath and ran down the street… without his clothes… yelling “Eureka!” which means “I found it!”

It’s definitely a fun story!

Archimedes Solved The Riddle Of The Crown

The physics rule he figured out helped determine the volume of an object with an irregular shape. Gold has a different density than silver.

Archimedes was able to determine if the crown was made of solid gold by taking an equal amount of gold given to the metalsmith, and testing that against the crown.

As it turns out, the rumors were correct! The crown had been crafted from both gold and silver.

But solving problems for royalty isn't all Archimedes did, in his bath or out.

More Cool Inventions From Archimedes

The Archimedes Screw was invented to pump water from the hulls of ships.

Hiero asked Archimedes to design him a crazy, huge ship. This ship would be the largest naval vessel in the fleet, which would also be used for luxury travel.

Greek ship image on a postage stamp

Archimedes went all out with his design. This was the largest ship ever known for its time!

It carried up to 600 people. It had a gym. There was an entire temple on board, dedicated to the Greek goddess, Aphrodite! Not to mention the kitchens, sleeping quarters for 600 guests and the crew, storage, and more.

It was quite the Greek cruise ship!

Only one problem. 

A ship of that size in ancient Greece would tend to leak. A lot.

Archimedes screw

Archimedes took an Egyptian design and modified it. Now known as the Archimedes’ Screw, it was put in place to efficiently pump the water out of the ship to keep it afloat!

This device is still used today in irrigation canals, and in the coal and grain industries for pumping liquids and solids.

Archimedes invention was even used in the first screw-driven steamship built in 1839. Named, aptly enough, the SS Archimedes.

Death Rays and Iron Claws

Archimedes' beloved home of Syracuse was under attack by Roman Naval forces.

Knowing that the attack was coming, the current ruler asked Archimedes to figure out a way to protect the city.

Archimedes came up with a few ideas.

slits in stone wall for archers

He cut holes into the walls of the city for the archers.

He created this wild machine that worked like a crane with a grabbing claw. The Claw of Archimedes, also called the Iron Hand, worked from inside the walls of the city.

The Roman ships which managed to slip in close to the walls got a big surprise! A “claw” dropped down from the wall and grabbed the underside of the ship. Then it raised back up, shook the ship about, and flipped it over!

old greek or roman ship carving

Can you even imagine? It would have been terrifying to see this contraption dropping over the wall, set to destroy your ship!

Then there were the “death rays.”

No, Archimedes didn’t invent lasers to protect the city of Syracuse. He did manage to set a few ships on fire remotely, though.

He set up a series of mirrors along the top of the city walls. Focusing the reflection of the sun from all the mirrors, they managed to create a condensed beam of light.

sunlight reflected off windows

Directing this beam to a central spot on the ship concentrated the heat. As ships were made of wood and sealed with tar, this beam of reflected sun light caused the ships to catch on fire!

Nothing from the historians specifically mention anything like a death ray in the accounts of the Roman siege of Syracuse.

He might have used catapults loaded with objects which had been set on fire, because he did manage to make the catapult more accurate.

Much debate occurred over whether or not this actually happened. In 2009, students at MIT used mirrors and set a mock ship on fire in an experiment/challenge. So, there might be more fact than fiction there.

Modern Science With Ancient Beginnings

Archimedes and his lever

                “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.” -Archimedes

Have you ever used a small rock with a strong stick as a lever to pry up a larger rock?

Archimedes is credited with discovering the laws of levers and pulleys. This is still very useful science as it allows you to move big, heavy objects with little effort.

block and tackle pulley system

He discovered how to calculate the volume and surface area of a sphere.

Archimedes discovered how to calculate the ratio of the circumference (all the way around) of a circle to the diameter (a straight line cutting the circle in half.) This ratio is called pi.

He even developed a mechanical odometer for calculating long distances!

This guy was WAY ahead of his time! There were loads more contributions which he made during his life. Unfortunately, most of his works were lost over time.

Archimedes Inspired Many Scientists

He inspired people like Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton with this works. He laid the foundation for advanced math, and figured out how it all worked!

He also managed to confound mathematicians throughout history because they couldn’t figure out how he came to his conclusions!

Archimedes is a pretty impressive guy!

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