For centuries, scientists have speculated about Archimedes’ death ray. At just 13 years old, this student created a miniature version

(CNN) — Archimedes, often called the Father of Mathematics, was one of the most famous inventors of ancient Greece, and some of his ideas and theories are still used today.

But there is one invention whose existence scientists have been speculating about for hundreds of years: the death ray. Now, a high school student may have some answers.

Brendan Senner, 13, of London, Ontario, won two gold medals and an award from the London Public Library for his miniature version of a purported weapon of war made of a large array of mirrors that focus and scatter sunlight. Designed to be directed towards him. Target, such as a ship, and cause it to burn, according to an article published in the January issue of the Canadian Science Fair Journal.

The Greek polymath Senner was fascinated by the figure after meeting him during a family holiday in Greece. For his 2022 science project, Sener recreated the Archimedean screw, a device for lifting and moving water. But the matter did not stop here.

One of the most interesting devices Senner found was the death ray, sometimes called a heat ray. Historical writings show that Archimedes used a “burning mirror” to set fire to anchored ships during the siege of Syracuse from 214 to 212 BC.

Sener explains, “Archimedes was way ahead of his time in terms of his inventions. And he really revolutionized the technology of that time, because Archimedes thought about things that no one had done before.” “(The death ray) is such a simple idea that no one would have thought of it at the time.”

There is no archaeological evidence that the contraption existed, as Senner points out in his article, but several people have attempted to recreate the mechanism to see if the ancient invention might have been possible.

a tiny death ray

In his attempt to create the beam, Sener placed a heat lamp in front of four small concave mirrors, each of which was tilted to direct the light onto a piece of cardboard with an X marked at the focal point. In this project designed for the 2023 Mathews Hall Annual Science Fair, Sener hypothesized that as mirrors focus light energy onto cardboard, the temperature of the target would increase with each added mirror.

In his experiment, Sener conducted three tests with two different bulb wattages, 50 watts and 100 watts. They found that each additional mirror increased the temperature significantly.

“I wasn’t quite sure how the results would turn out, as there are many different results on this topic, but I expected the heat to increase, although not as drastic as I found while doing the experiment,” explains Sener.

a tiny death ray

In his attempt to create the beam, Sener placed a heat lamp in front of four small concave mirrors, each of which was tilted to direct the light onto a piece of cardboard with an X marked at the focal point. In this project designed for the 2023 Mathews Hall Annual Science Fair, Sener hypothesized that as mirrors focus light energy onto cardboard, the temperature of the target would increase with each added mirror.

In his experiment, Sener conducted three tests with two different bulb wattages, 50 watts and 100 watts. They found that each additional mirror increased the temperature significantly.

“I wasn’t quite sure how the results would turn out, as there are many different results on this topic, but I expected the heat to increase, although not as drastic as I found while doing the experiment,” explains Sener.

During the experiment with only a lamp and a 100-watt bulb and without a mirror, the temperature of the cardboard was about 27.2 degrees Celsius. After waiting for the cardboard to cool, Sener added a mirror and tested again. The temperature at the center point rose to about 34.9 degrees Celsius.

The largest increase occurred when a fourth mirror was added. The temperature of the three mirrors pointed at the target was about 43.4°C, but with the addition of the fourth mirror it increased by about 10°C to 53.5°C.

In the article, Sener states that he finds these results “quite remarkable, as they suggest that light travels in all directions and that the shape of the concave mirror concentrates the light waves toward a single point.”

Cliff Ho, chief scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, said the project is “an excellent assessment of fundamental processes.” The facility is a scientific and engineering laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Although the experiment “offers nothing new to the scientific literature (…), its findings were a good confirmation of the first law of thermodynamics,” which states that energy or heat can be transferred, Ho said. . The scientist proposed a conference on the death ray in 2014, concluding that the idea was feasible but would be difficult for Archimedes to implement.

Sener did not intend to set fire to anything, because “a heat lamp does not produce anywhere near the heat produced by the sun,” he said. But he believes that with the use of the sun’s rays and larger mirrors, “the temperature will rise even more dramatically and faster” and “combustion will occur more easily.”

More theories about the death ray

Every two years, the Olympic torch is lit using a curved parabolic mirror that focuses sunlight into a single point. Once the torch is placed at that focal point, the sun’s rays illuminate it. It is not believed that Archimedes used a single parabolic mirror, as it cannot be pointed like a plane mirror.

It is commonly speculated that Archimedes’ death ray was a combination of several polished mirrors or shields. However, this theory is often discredited due to the idea that the ships would have been underway during the battle. According to Thomas Chondros, retired associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Patras (Greece), the heat generated by the mirrors would cause the ships to catch fire in order to keep them stationary and anchored nearby. coast. Chondros has studied Archimedes and his inventions.

The Discovery Channel series “Mythbusters” aired episodes of hypothetical death ray test scenarios in 2004, 2006, and 2010, but ultimately declared the legend a myth when each test failed to cause it to fire a wooden boat. In 2005, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, inspired by the first episode of the series, managed to set fire to a wooden boat with a technique largely similar to Senor’s, but failed on a second attempt.

Despite the limitations of the death ray’s feasibility, Chondros acknowledged that Sener’s project was “interesting and well-documented”, and that the teen’s experimental setup was “a basis for debate for young students, even university students.” Can be made.” They said. an email.

Sener’s mother, Melanie, wasn’t surprised her son chose a science project. He said, “He has always been fascinated by history, science and nature. (…) He has always had a thirst for education and knowledge of any kind.”

Sener sees himself becoming a scientist one day, he said, whether it’s in engineering, bioengineering or medicine.

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