Archimedes: Bathtub Mathematician

February 20, 2008
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Syracuse, 250 B.C.

Archimedes, we all know him! Our absentminded genius! Syracuse’s own “Father of Mathematics”!

Born in 287 B.C. he studied in Alexandria. He originally wanted to be a writer but became a mathematician instead! He was born and lived his whole life in Syracuse. Archimedes could often be found in the street, doing equations in the dirt. If he realized how to solve a problem, he would solve it then and there (street, house, palace, etc.)! One of his most interesting stories is when he solved a problem in the bathtub! He was solving a problem for King Hiero II.

King Hiero II was a relative of Archimedes. Hiero wanted to build a present for the gods. He decided to send a bar of gold to the goldsmith to build a golden wreath. “The goldsmith did a great job” said Hiero “In just one month he turned a heavy bar of gold into a light and lacy wreath!” But Hiero could not dismiss the feeling that something was wrong. “I felt I had been cheated, so I called in my genius cousin Archimedes” Said Hiero. After hearing the problem Archimedes suggested melting the wreath down, but the king strongly objected he liked the wreath. While talking to Archimedes, Hiero noticed he smelled. He immediately ordered Archimedes to the public baths to take a bath. “No cousin of a king will smell like that” he said. “I don’t care if he’s a genius or not!” As Archimedes sank in to the bathtub he noticed water spilled out. He realized the more weight he put in, the more water spilled out! (This is called water displacement.) Archimedes jumped out of the bathtub, and streaked through the streets of Syracuse to the palace! “I was walking home from the market place, when all of a sudden a naked man ran by me yelling Eureka! Eureka!” said startled citizen Katrina Zervanos. After getting dressed Archimedes explained his theory to the king. Hiero agreed they should test his theory. The king found a bar of gold exactly the same size (and weight) as the one used for the golden wreath and tested Archimedes theory. They found out the gold displaced less water than the wreath! “This means that a denser metal (possibly silver) was substituted for gold. Because he needed more of that metal to make up for size he did not count on the wreath being heavier. You have in fact been cheated” Said Archimedes. Word spread quickly and the goldsmith heard he was found out, and fled town. It turns out he had been cheating people for a while. He was not available for comment.

When Rome attacked Syracuse Archimedes was too old to fight. But he still found a way to help! Every day Archimedes would eat a picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the harbor. A special mirror on his picnic basket aimed the sun’s rays at Roman ships. Everyday a Roman ship just burst into flame! They could never figure out why, and no one ever suspected the old man on the hill!

Unfortunately Archimedes was killed during the Roman Invasion. A soldier shot him because he would not move out of the street, away from his math problem.

Archimedes, the one and only. An absentminded genius? The Father of Mathematics? Syracuse’s scientist streaker? Or the Bathtub Mathematician? Up to you to decide!

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