Archimedes

First of all, who was Archimedes?

Archimedes (287 – 211 BCE) was an inventor and mathematician from Syracuse, a city-state on the island of Sicily (now in Italy). He was the principal thinker of the Hellenistic era, which combined Greek, Egyptian, and Babylonian knowledge to produce major scientific advancements.

And why should I care?

Using math, Archimedes developed many of the basic building blocks of machinery, such as the pulley, lever, and screw. He used these building blocks to devise ingenious machines to defend Syracuse from attackers, among other useful things. He was also a major influence on later thinkers like Galileo and da Vinci.

Isn't there a story about him yelling "Eureka" and running naked through the streets?

Indeed there is. The word "eureka" ("I have done it!") is attributed to him, joyously exclaimed upon stepping into the bathtub, seeing the water rise, and realizing he could use the amount of that displaced water to measure the volume of an irregular object. As the story goes, the local king wanted Archimedes to determine whether the king's goldsmith was cheating him by mixing other metals into his gold crown. And since they could measure weight, they could use volume to figure out density and learn how pure or impure the gold really was. Anyhow, Archimedes was excited about this, so he ran outside without getting dressed. As one does.

Sadly, the story is probably a myth, but at least it's a good one.

So what's in the exhibit?

Aha. The exhibit showcases more than 60 items – most of them interactive – that challenge visitors to solve puzzles and experiment with ancient technology. Examples include models of machines that could measure time, capsize and burn enemy ships, and enable the building of massive pyramids.

Here's one example of an item on display. It's a model of a self-sustaining system that ran on renewable energy. The parabolic mirror focuses sunlight (or lamplight) onto the copper ball, heating up water inside the ball and turning it to steam. The steam pushes through the pipe, through the water container below, and onto onto the propeller, making it turn. Not bad for the 3rd century BCE, right?