On the Shoulders of Eastern Giants: The Forgotten Legacy of Medieval Physicists

General interest seminar

On the Shoulders of Eastern Giants: The Forgotten Legacy of Medieval Physicists

Event details

We learn at school that Isaac Newton is the father of modern optics, that Copernicus heralded the birth of astronomy, and that it is Snell's law of refraction. But what is the debt these men owe to the physicists and astronomers of the medieval Islamic Empire?

Men such as ibn al-Haytham, the greatest physicist in the two thousand year span between Archimedes and Newton, and whose Book of Optics was just as influential as Newton's seven centuries later; or Avicenna and Biruni the Persian polymaths who argued over such topics as why ice floats and whether parallel universes exist; or Ibn Sahl who came up with the correct law of refraction many centuries before Snell; or the astronomers al-Tusi and ibn al-Shatir, without whom Copernicus would not have been able to formulate his heliocentric model of the solar system.

In this lecture I will describe these characters and their forgotten contribution to physics and astronomy.


University staff and students should register here.

Visitors from outwiith the University should register with Karon McBride.

Further information

Event resources

Our General Interest Seminars are an opportunity for distinguished speakers to present new research in physics and related areas. The material presented is suitable for undergraduate level upwards and all members of the School are welcome to attend..

Find out more about General interest seminars.