Archimedes was an astronomer and mathematician who was born in Sicily in 287 BC, which was then a Greek colony. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, but his most infamous work has more to do with solar rays than mathematical theorms. It’s rumored that Archimedes once set fire to an invading Roman ship by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight on the sails.
One very modern fan of this ancient rumor is President Obama. This month, Italian television audiences were treated to Obama’s appearance on the popular American show MythBusters. Italy watched as Obama challenged the MythBusters team to revisit the controversial claim that Archimedes may have set fire to Roman ships using a solar heat ray.
500 high school students, armed with modern and ancient-replica mirrors were recruited to reflect sunrays onto a ship’s sails. Their heat ray failed to set the boat on fire, but the ship’s captain admitted that he was temporarily blinded by the flashing mirrors. Archimedes’ solar ray may have been busted, but perhaps the ingenious ancient philosopher was trying to blind the Roman army all along.
If you want to know more about Archimedes have a look at our dedicated feature