Archimedes was born in Syracuse on the eastern coast of Sicily and educated in Alexandria in Egypt. He then returned to Syracuse, where he spent most of the rest of his life, devoting his time to research and experimentation in many fields.
In mechanics he defined the principle of the lever and is credited with inventing the compound pulley and the hydraulic screw for raising water from a lower to higher level. He is most famous for discovering the law of hydrostatics, sometimes known as ‘Archimedes’ principle’, stating that a body immersed in fluid loses weight equal to the weight of the amount of fluid it displaces. Archimedes is supposed to have made this discovery when stepping into his bath, causing him to exclaim ‘Eureka!’
During the Roman conquest of Sicily in 214 BC Archimedes worked for the state, and several of his mechanical devices were employed in the defence of Syracuse. Among the war machines attributed to him are the catapult and – perhaps legendary – a mirror system for focusing the sun’s rays on the invaders’ boats and igniting them. After Syracuse was captured, Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier. It is said that he was so absorbed in his calculations he told his killer not to disturb him.