Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book: The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria

The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria
Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria (c. 10-70 AD) was a prolific inventor and mathematician and is one of the first known creators of automata in the history of Western civilization. His original works were destroyed in the fire that consumed the ancient library in Alexandria, but some of his work survived by way of copies that were made in Arabic. Here is his work on Pneumatics, which included a working steam engine -- an invention that was perhaps several thousand years ahead of its time.

Here is the book The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Decoding the Heavens: Antikythera mechanism

Book - Decoding the Heavens: Antikythera mechanism
Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets is about the the Antikythera mechanism a mysterious and sophisticated mechanical device recovered in 1901 from an ancient Mediterranean shipwreck. It is now thought to have been built about 150 - 100 BC and represents the first known analog computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. It's an astonishing piece of ancient mechanical technology with a fascinating history.

From the Publishers Weekly
Marchant, editor of New Science, relates the century-long struggle of competing amateurs and scientists to understand the secrets of a 2000-year-old clock-like mechanism found in 1901 by Greek divers off the coast of Antikythera, a small island near Tunisia. With new research and interviews, Marchant goes behind the scenes of the National Museum in Athens, which zealously guarded the treasure while overlooking its importance; examines the significant contributions of a London Science Museum assistant curator who spent more than 30 years building models of the device; and the 2006 discoveries made by a group of modern researchers using state-of-the-art X-ray. Beneath its ancient, calcified surfaces they found "delicate cogwheels of all sizes" with perfectly formed triangular teeth, astronomical inscriptions "crammed onto every surviving surface," and a 223-tooth manually-operated turntable that guides the device. Variously described as a calendar computer, a planetarium and an eclipse predictor,Marchant gives clear explanations of the questions and topics involved, including Greek astronomy and clockwork mechanisms. For all they've learned, however, the Antikythera mechanism still retains secrets that may reveal unknown connections between modern and ancient technology; this globe-trotting, era-spanning mystery should absorb armchair scientists of all kinds.

Here is a link for more information on the book Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Automta in antiquity article from SPIEGEL Online

Automta in antiquity article from Speigel Online
The German magazine SPIEGELhas published an article on automata in antiquity. Or...at least that's what I believe it is about. I cannot read German. Nevertheless, they have a number of wonderful drawings and photographs that accompany the article.

Once again the credit must go to Spiel und Kunst mit Mechanik for finding this great resource.

Shown above is a diagram of Hero of Alexandria's clever method for automatically opening temple doors. The fire in the pot, creates pressure in the large water tank. This causes water to spill into the bucket, the weight of which works against the counterweight to rotate the vertical axle attached to the temple door. Very clever. Done with the right amount of ceremony, this must have seemed very magical indeed to the ancient Greeks.

Here is a link to the photoset associated with the article. If you are able to read German, you might also like to read the original article on automata in antiquity.

[ Thanks once again to Falk Keuten! ]

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