Science: Archimedes' Weapon

To the great Greek scientist Archimedes, the study of mathematics and physics meant far more than pure scholarship. Imaginative application of the laws he worked out led to eminently practical inventions—from contrivances employing the lever to an ingenious steam-powered cannon. Perhaps his most remarkable contribution to weaponry, according to Lucian, Plutarch and other ancient writers, was a "burning glass" that focused the sun's rays to set fire to Roman ships besieging his home town of Syracuse around 214 B.C. Exactly how Archimedes managed this spectacular use of solar power has long been the subject of scholarly debate. Many historians, in fact,...

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