Essays on Science and SocietyPORTRAITS OF SCIENCE

Proof, Amazement, and the Unexpected

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Science  01 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5595, pp. 967-968
DOI: 10.1126/science.1078527

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Archimedes is now best known for shouting "Eureka" in the bath, and perhaps also for his invention of the cunning machines that helped to defend Syracuse from the Roman fleet during the Punic Wars in 212 BP. He is less famous for his most profound work--the subtle deductions and rigorous, often counterintuitive, mathematical proofs of seemingly prosaic problems. His path-breaking work has reached new prominence among scholars with the rediscovery of a long-lost palimpsest copy of some of his writings, which for the first time shows that Greek mathematicians could work with infinite sets of numbers.