Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I've Found It!

When it comes to mathematicians, Archimedes was the greatest! He’s right up there with Isaac Newton and Carl Friedrich Gauss. The son of an astronomer, Archimedes was born around 290 BC in the Sicilian city of Syracuse.

Archimedes worked in practically every area of mathematics. His bathtub study of buoyancy is the foundation of modern hydrostatics. The story behind the study goes as follows:

It seems that King Hiero had commissioned a new royal crown for which he provided solid gold to the goldsmith. When the crown arrived, however, King Hiero was suspicious that the wily goldsmith only used a bit of the gold, kept the rest for himself and added silver or lead to make the crown the correct weight. Archimedes was asked to determine whether or not the crown was pure gold without harming it in the process. Archimedes was perplexed but found the needed inspiration while enjoying a stress relieving bath. He noticed that the full bath overflowed when he lowered himself into it, and suddenly grasped that he could measure the crown's volume by the amount of water it displaced. Instantly he knew that since he could measure the crown's volume, all he had to do was discover its weight in order to calculate its density and hence its purity. Archimedes was so exuberant about his discovery that he riotously ran down the streets of Syracuse naked shouting, "Eureka!" which meant "I've found it!" in Greek.

Click here to see the illustrated version of the "Eureka" story, drawn by Kal, noted illustrator and cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun.

FYI: Over the past 11 days, according to KnowledgeNews, Discovery of the Week report, scientists at Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Center have been using powerful X-rays to read as many as 15 pages of Archimedes' work that no one has read in nearly 800 years. A medieval monk, not realizing that he had in his hands the only known copy of several of Archimedes' texts, erased the one-of-a-kind pages around the year 1229. He scraped off the ink, cut the parchment in two, and used it to record prayers. Some 20th-century forgers later erased more pages, when they painted over them to make the manuscript look more valuable.

Despite this mathematical mutilation, the scientists' X-rays - a million times more powerful than the ones used to see your bones - can still illuminate what's left of the ancient ink. The technique is called X-ray fluorescence, and scientists say that it's allowing us to re-read "one of the greatest figures of western civilization."

enjoy, ron

No comments: