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Archaeology & History

12-year-old builds working replica of Archimedes' death ray

By T.K. Randall
February 10, 2024 · Comment icon 15 comments
Archimedes death ray.
Historic depiction of Archimedes using his death ray. Image Credit: Autore sconosciuto
The Canadian grade eight student wanted to see if the idea of setting ships on fire with mirrors was plausible.
The ancient Greek physicist and mathematician Archimedes is perhaps best known for jumping out of his bathtub and shouting 'Eureka!' after discovering that he could use the displacement of water to determine the volume of a gold crown, yet he is also attributed with a number of other inventions and discoveries of which some still remain steeped in mystery and intrigue.

Chief among these is the death ray - a device he invented that was reportedly used to set fire to invading Roman vessels during the Siege of Syracuse between 213 to 212 BCE.

The weapon worked by essentially focusing the sun's rays on approaching ships and eventually setting them alight - something that would have proven devastating to the vessels' occupants.

To date, however, there has never been any archaeological evidence to suggest that the death ray actually existed or was used in battle, prompting modern day researchers to attempt to recreate the idea to see if it was feasible for use in such a scenario.
The latest budding scientist to do this was 12-year-old Brenden Sener who built a working miniature replica of the death ray using small concave mirrors and LED desk lamps.

What he discovered was that by focusing multiple reflectors on the same spot, the temperature increased significantly, with the rate of increase rising as more mirrors were added.

A similar experiment was conducted back in 2005 by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who used a replica death ray to set a ship alight in 11 minutes.

"Based on my experimental findings, I agree with the MIT group and believe that with a strong enough heat source and larger, multiple mirrors all focused at a perfect angle, combustion could be possible," Sener wrote.

Source: IFL Science | Comments (15)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #6 Posted by lightly 19 days ago
Archie’s ray was supposedly created by focusing SUN light/heat on a single point with a ,or multiple, concave Mirrors??    I think it could work. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by pallidin 19 days ago
I accidentally set a small, remote forest on fire playing around with a magnifying glass as a kid. Never tried it with multiple mirrors at a distance, though.  
Comment icon #8 Posted by ercbreeze 16 days ago
  On 2/10/2024 at 1:47 PM, ercbreeze said: I proved it was possible when at 5 years of age I would take our magnifying glass outside in the sunlight and set leaves, ants, and other things I could find on fire.  ?  Abramelin "Imagine: a magnifying glass large enough to burn a ship at a large distance. It's nonsense, agreed?" I can test it by holding it over you for a while. ?   Bet you wouldn't think it was nonsense?
Comment icon #9 Posted by psyche101 16 days ago
Comment icon #10 Posted by lightly 15 days ago
Thanks psyche,   I suspect the video is interesting…but it was blocked.     I saw a story about a crazy shaped building in L.A. Ca.  which was covered in thousands of highly reflective steel panels…it blinded neighbors and drivers on nearby I-5  …it also created hot spots on the streets and sidewalks which people could actually feel …also tales of setting trash bins ablaze!     …’ they’ sanded selected panels to reduce reflection…problem solved.
Comment icon #11 Posted by psyche101 15 days ago
That's a shame, it's MythBusters testing the death ray. They couldn't get it it work. 
Comment icon #12 Posted by lightly 15 days ago
Those guys couldn’t get shoelaces to work.       
Comment icon #13 Posted by lightly 14 days ago
I just went out into the morning Sun with my wife’s handheld double sided side is a Magnifying mirror.  I put my right palm in the sun…and felt the heat of the sun…I put my left palm in the shade and reflected the sun onto it and felt MORE heat….then I used the Magnifying side and felt even MORE Heat!    ..(than the normal side’s reflected light).   Pretty cool huh!?           .. Awhile back I discovered that the small motion detecting (to turn on bright* mode) solar charged lights we have …won’t detect motion through the van window.   I guess that makes ... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by Abramelin 14 days ago
Abramelin "Imagine: a magnifying glass large enough to burn a ship at a large distance. It's nonsense, agreed?" I can test it by holding it over you for a while. ?   Bet you wouldn't think it was nonsense? It IS nonsense: how big should that magnifying glass be, and how would you direct that beam at a ship? Imagine you need a horizontal beem to direct it at a ship in front of you. You only do that near sunrise or sunset. And then the beam would not have much power. You should 'hover' above that ship during noon or something. It's what Lightly said: several concave mirrors.
Comment icon #15 Posted by Still Waters 13 days ago
From the underlined link in my above OP:

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