The life of Archimedes impacted many people of his time because his inventions brought a new level to ancient warfare. He was also well known for being a mathematician and for his scientific writings, many of which still survive today.
Archimedes was born in Syracuse, Sicily, and he lived to be seventy-five years old. This puts the date of his birth around 287 B.C., and the date of his death around 362 B.C. His father was an astronomer, and he may have been related to Hiero II, king of Syracuse (“Archimedes”). We do not know much about his childhood, but we do know that he studied with Euclid in Alexandria, Egypt. After his studies, he returned to Syracuse and made the many inventions that still impact us today (“Archimedes Biography”).
The discovery that Archimedes is perhaps most famous for is the Archimedes Principle. King Hiero II gave a goldsmith a certain amount of gold and asked that he make a crown from it. Once the crown was finished, the king suspected that the goldsmith had substituted some of the gold in the crown for silver. Archimedes was asked find out the truth without melting the crown to calculate its density (“Archimedes’ Principle”). When he later took a bath, Archimedes saw the water run over the edges of the tub. As he watched the water spill over, he suddenly found his answer. “Eureka!” he shouted, jumping out of the tub and running down the street without his clothes (qtd. in Gow 50). Archimedes to Hawking by Clifford A. Pickover explains it this way: “Because gold has a greater density than silver, a gold cube would be smaller than a silver cube of equal weight, causing less water to spill out of the bucket.” Archimedes could do the same thing with the crown as he did in the bath to find out the density. It turns out that, yes, the goldsmith did lie, and was killed because of it (Pickover, 46).
Another one of Archimedes’ inventions was the Archimedes screw, “a device used to raise water from one level to another” (“Archimedes’ Screw”). In Archimedes’ time, the screw was made of wood (“The Archimedes’ Screw”) and was turned by hand. The bottom of the screw took in water and rotated to the top, where the water would spill out (“Archimedes Screw”). When writing about Archimedes’ invention, Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, said that the Archimedes screw could take in water “with a trifling amount of labor” (qtd. in Gow 78). The Archimedes screw is still in use today, but is now made of metal and is operated by more powerful machines (“Modern Uses of the Archimedes’ Screw Pump”).
One of Archimedes’ most interesting inventions was the heat ray, commonly known as the “death ray”. It was used in war to defend Syracuse. The heat ray consisted of many polished bronze mirrors focused on an enemy ship in the harbor. The sun’s rays would reflect from the mirrors to the ship, promptly causing it to burst into flames (“Did Archimedes’ Solar Powered Death Ray Exist?”).
Although the heat ray seems like a good idea, there is...