Recreating an Ancient Death Ray
By John Schartz
Did Archimedes really produce a death
ray 2,200 years ago? According to Greek and
Roman historians, he set Roman warships
afire with a polished mirror that focused the
sunís rays from afar during the siege of Syracuse.
Last year the Discovery Channel program
"MythBusters" declared the story a
myth after failing to reproduce the feat.
The program intrigued David Wallace,
a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. When he presented the death
ray as an offbeat project for his class in
product development, he said, "only a small
number thought it was technically possible."
On Oct. 4 on the roof of M.I.T.ís West Garage,
the class set up 127 cheap one-squarefoot
mirrors 100 feet from a wooden mockup
of the side of a ship. Clouds dogged the experiment,
but with just 10 minutes of clear
sky, the "ship" burst into flames. "Flash ignition!"
Dr. Wallace exulted on the Web site
devoted to the experiment, web.mit.edu/2.009/www/lectures/10_ArchimedesResult.html. The results first appeared on the Web
"We're not trying to assess whether Archimedes
really did it or not," Dr. Wallace
said. Instead, they have shown that "it's at
Peter Rees, the executive producer of
the TV program, applauded the work. "Here
at 'MythBusters' we are always happy to be
involved in any kind of quasi historical/scientific
debate," he wrote in an e-mail message,
"especially if we prompted it."
Like Dr. Wallace, he said that the M.I.T.
experiment did not prove that Archimedes
actually created a death ray, or that it would
have worked on actual ships in real-world
Photographs courtesy of the 2.009 staff of M.I.T.
Story source nytimes.com. Requires FREE registration.
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