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Ness Creighton

Egyptian Muslim mathematician, also known as al-Hasib al-Misri, the Egyptian Calculator (or Reckoner). His full name was Abu Kamil Shujaʿ ibn Aslam ibn Muhammad ibn Shuja. Very few biographical details are known concerning Abu Kamil, but his productive peak appears to have been at the end of the ninth century. The year of his birth and the year of his death are known with a decent degree of certainty as he is known to have died before al-Imrani (who died in 955) but to have lived well beyond al-Khwarizmi (who died in 850). A direct successor in the development of algebra to al-Khwarizmi, his texts on algebraic theory helped to form the groundwork for later mathematicians, including al-Karaji. Fibonacci would later adopt his mathematical techniques.

Abu Kamil worked to perfect many of al Khwarizmi s algebraic methods including work with the multiplication and division of algebraic objects and the addition ...

Article

Chris Stringer

It has been several decades since the man from Kibish made his appearance before the world of science. Strongly built, stained in hues of blue and brown from his lengthy immersion in the soil, the fragments of his skull, jaw, and skeleton had been disinterred from their resting place on the banks of the River Kibish in Ethiopia in 1967.  Researchers did not realize it at the time, but scrutiny of those few bone fragments would prove to be crucial in a fundamental rethinking about the evolution of our species.

Article

Duane W. Roller

Greek polymath most noted for his calculation of the circumference of the earth and his invention of the discipline of geography, was born in Cyrene in modern Libya, an outpost of Greek culture; he was exposed early to exotic contacts at the end of the Greek world. Nothing is known about his youth, but by the 260s BCE he was studying in Athens, primarily with the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, and Arcesilaus of Pitane, the director of the Academy. He was also a close associate of the mathematician Archimedes, who dedicated at least one work to him. Eratosthenes was thus trained in the wide variety of thought that Hellenistic Athens offered, and his early writings demonstrate his ability in philosophy, philology, and mathematics. But there are few details about the nearly twenty years that he spent in the city.

In 246 BCE the new Ptolemaic king Ptolemy III ...

Article

Georgia L. Irby-Massie

Greek polymath who worked in mathematics, astronomy, and mechanics. He is especially famous for descriptions of automata (air-, water-, and steam-powered mechanical devices) and steam-powered aeolipiles. “Hero’s engine,” deriving from Ctesibius of Alexandria’s design (290250 bce), is the first device to transform steam into rotary motion. The aeolipile consists of a hollow sphere attached by pipes to an enclosed water-filled cauldron. When the cauldron is heated, the sphere spins on a pivot as it releases steam (Pneumatics 50).

Hero’s much disputed floruit was pinpointed by Neugebauer (1975, 846), who noted that Hero used eyewitness evidence of a lunar eclipse of 62 ce, visible from both Rome and Alexandria, to calculate the distance between those two cities (Dioptra 35). Making no use of Ptolemy of Alexandria (127after 146 ce Hero likely predated Ptolemy Neugebauer Very little is known of Hero s life His mathematical corpus ...

Article

Hypatia  

Michael A. B. Deakin

Alexandrian astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher, was the first woman mathematician of whose life and work we have reasonably detailed and secure knowledge. She was active as a public figure, taking a leading part in the civic affairs of Alexandria and also delivering popular lectures on philosophy: a Neoplatonist philosophy heavily influenced by mathematics. She also taught students the intricacies of technical mathematics and astronomy. Her public profile alone was probably distinguished enough to earn her a place in history, but this has been cemented by the lurid nature of her death. She died in 415, murdered by a crowd of Christian zealots who seized her, stripped her, and proceeded to dismember her and to burn her mangled corpse. Undoubtedly this further circumstance has served to keep her name alive.

Hypatia was the daughter of the mathematician Theon and taught both mathematics and philosophy in the then Greek city of Alexandria ...

Article

Abdelhamid I. Sabra

Egyptian scientist, was known in his lifetime as al-Basri, where he was first in Basra, Iraq, and as al-Misri, since he ended his life in Cairo, having escaped from the “widespread plagues” described in some detail by the Christian physician Ibn Butlan (d. AH 458/1066 CE). Ibn Butlan witnessed the plagues while he traveled to Aleppo, al-Fustat, and al-Qustantiniyya, and he lists Ibn al-Haytham among “the men of science” who fell victim to the plague.

Ibn al-Haytham’s education is known mainly from his extant writings, which luckily are many, most of them original and impressive, with continuous interest in astronomy, and especially a new significant emphasis on the study of light as a clear branch of “physics”: “light,” he noted, in his Optics book 5 does not behave in the way it does for the sake of the eye He was not an atomist but he accepted ...

Article

Ness Creighton

Egyptian astronomer, whose full name was Abu’l-Hasan ʿAli B. Abi Saʿid ʿAbd Al-Rahma, Ahmad B. Yunus Al-Sadafi, was one of the most prominent Muslim astronomers, not only of his time, but in terms of general influence. His al-Zidj al-kabir al-hakimi, considered one of the finest surviving astronomical handbooks, has been used extensively as a source of data by early and modern astronomers.

Ibn Yunus was the son of an eminent Egyptian historian ʿAbd al Rahnan and great grandson of the companion Yunus of the legal scholar al Shafi i While his exact date of birth is unknown it can be inferred from his reported age at the date of his father s death that he was born in the year 950 CE He is known not only as an astronomer but also as a poet and a musician having had much reported talent with the lute Some of Ibn Yunus s poems ...

Article

Reginald H. Pitts

inventor, entrepreneur, and historian, was born in what is now Gardiner, Maine, the son of Matthias Lewis, a farm laborer of Mohegan Indian ancestry. Nothing is now known of Lewis's mother. Sometime after 28 July 1800 Lewis's father married Lucy Stockbridge of Pittston, Maine, the daughter of African slaves. It is not known whether this marriage legalized a longstanding relationship or was Matthias's actual second marriage.

Although little is known of Lewis's early life, it appears that he first went to sea in ships that worked the Atlantic rim and the coastal trade down to the Caribbean. It is known that Lewis wanted to become a missionary to Africa; after his death, his neighbors remembered, “it was said … that the Congregational Church in Hallowell [where Lewis moved around 1820 had in consequence of the intelligence he had manifested in youth obtained for him an ...

Article

Michael A. B. Deakin

mathematician, astronomer, and geographer, was the principal figure of the “silver age” of ancient Greek mathematics. Little is known of his life; what the sources tell us is contradictory and unreliable. The little we do know reliably is gleaned rather from what survives of his writing. His principal work, at least in what has survived, is the Synagoge or Collection, and even this has not reached us in its entirety. It is described as having comprised eight books, of which the first and part of the second are missing. The only other work of his that survives in the original Greek (and that only in part) is a commentary on Ptolemy’s Almagest. Beyond these are works in other languages that are thought to be translations of originals by him. An Arabic commentary on Book X of Euclid’s Elements may be a translation of a work he is ...

Article

Theon  

Michael A. B. Deakin

Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician was the leading mathematician of his era and the last attested member of the famed Alexandrian Museum The mid to late fourth century of the Common Era was not a time conducive to mathematics Indeed Constantius a Roman Emperor of the day promulgated a law to the effect that no one may consult a soothsayer or a mathematician The word soothsayer is the key mathematicians were bundled together with numerologists and other such charlatans Small wonder that the great mathematical achievements of earlier researchers like Archimedes were no longer being actively pursued or extended The research agenda of Archimedes and the great works of synthesis such as Euclid s could scarcely be expected to flourish in such a climate of opinion Contemporaneous with this shift of opinion was a rising tide of militancy in Christianity which in particular saw the destruction of the Alexandrian Serapeion and ...