Heron, a famous inventor of Alexandria, spent time tinkering with Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid during Cleopatra’s time. Did you know that his inventions set the groundwork of many scientific and mechanical wonders that we take for granted.
Hey, hey! Happy Wednesday. Thank you for joining us on another episode of Nerdy by Nature. I’m Chris and I’ll be your episode guide today. Follow us on Twitter | Like us on Facebook | Join us on Instagram
Heron was a Greek mathematician and engineer who studied and taught at the Museum of Alexandria. He is considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity in history that we know of. During his tenure, Heron had published a number of books, and some containing diagrams for some of his well known inventions. While his inventions didn’t stand the test of time, his notes did and been an inspiration for many since.
This inventors most well-known product is the steam-powered device called an aeolipile. The construction of the aeolipile involves a sphere which rotated on its axis, while having oppositely bent or curved nozzles projecting from it. Underneath the sphere ends were connected to a boiler tank, where water would be heated. The pressurized steam was expelled through the nozzles, thereby creating movement in opposite directions to propel the steam engine in constant motion. This is example of the first-recorded steam engine and an example of the ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity that Heron possessed.
This inventor also created what could very well be ‘coined’ as the first vending machine dispensing holy water: A simple, yet effective money-maker for the Roman Church. The way this device worked is with a slot on the top of the machine that accepted a coin and a set amount of holy water would be poured out. Taking advantage of natural gravity, a deposited coin fell onto a pan that was attached to a lever. This caused a valve to open up and let some water flow out the spout. The pan continued to tilt with the weight of the coin until it fell off (at which point a counter-weight would snap the lever back up and turn off the valve).
My favourite invention of all would have to be his theatre setup. Would you believe he made a mechanical operated play which ran for almost 10 minutes? Yeah, crazy! It contained movements from characters, sound effects and automatic scene changes. All powered by a simplistic form of binary using ropes, knots, and simple machines operated by a rotating cylindrical cogwheel. A fine example of computer programming similar to punch cards. The sound of thunder was produced by the mechanically-timed dropping of metal balls of varying sizes onto drums. All in all, this show would be quite the marvel to see at the Greek theatre.
It’s clear that Heron devoted his life to engineering and inventing, and it shows. Not to mention countless papers about bending light or his findings on calculating the area of a triangle from its side lengths. Hard to believe that such a figure existed back in 20 AD, but I should mention that Heron was also known as “The Hero of Alexandria” – and with good reason, too. He was definitely a pioneer in math, science and engineering; kick-starting an industrial revolution many years before it’s time.
While we were only able to uncover a fraction of this inventor’s achievements, we hope that our episode has sparked some further interest into his life, and the inspiration behind many of the inventions that we see today.
Have a good week! – Chris