Who is Archimedes? - Biography, Inventions & Contributions

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  • 0:02 The Man
  • 1:00 Inventions
  • 2:05 Weapons
  • 2:26 The Math
  • 3:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

What follows is a brief biography of the Sicilian inventor and mathematician Archimedes. His more important contributions to science and mathematics are listed and explained, and a short quiz follows the lesson.

The Man

Archimedes was a Sicilian inventor and mathematician who lived circa 287-212 B.C.E. His accomplishments, though over 2,000 years old, have stayed with us. If you've ever looked to see how far you've gone in a car, or tried to figure out how big a circle is, or even if you have ever taken an accounting class, you have run into something Archimedes did that affects us to this day.

It's difficult to pin down any exact details about Archimedes' life, which is sad because he was probably the most interesting person of his time. Any biographies that might have been written about him -- by his friends or by his enemies -- have been long lost. He might have been married and had children, or he might have been alone his whole life. All that is known for certain is that he died in the Second Punic War when the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus captured Syracuse, Sicily. One of the general's soldiers killed Archimedes against orders.


Archimedes solved a number of problems for Sicily during his life, and these solutions constitute most of his inventions. When a goldsmith was commissioned to make a crown for King Hiero using the gold he was supplied, the king suspected him of dishonesty and asked Archimedes to determine whether there was some silver substituted in.

Archimedes came up with the Archimedes Principle in response. He realized that if he found the crown's mass and divided it by the crown's volume, he could figure out the density of the crown. Archimedes knew how dense an object of equal volume should be, so all he needed to do was compare the two results. We still use density in the same way, for figuring out how much of each element is in an object.

On another occasion, Archimedes was asked to design a huge ship and invented the Archimedes screw in order to solve the problem of bilge water. The Archimedes screw is a tool still used for moving liquids and granulated solids. He also invented the block and tackle pulley system and the odometer, and he made significant improvements to the catapult.

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