The Archimedes Screw

Archimedes of Syracuse(c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Archimedes is generally considered to be the greatest mathematician and inventor of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time.

A large part of Archimedes' work in engineering arose from fulfilling the needs of his home city of Syracuse. The Greek writer Athenaeus of Naucratis described how King Hieron II commissioned Archimedes to design a huge ship, the Syracusia, which could be used for luxury travel, carrying supplies, and as a naval warship. The Syracusia is said to have been the largest ship built in classical antiquity. It was capable of carrying 600 people and included garden decorations, a gymnasium and a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite among its facilities.

Since a ship of this size would leak a considerable amount of water through the hull, the Archimedes screw was purportedly developed in order to remove the bilge water. Archimedes' machine was a device with a revolving screw-shaped blade inside a cylinder. It was turned by hand, and could also be used to transfer water from a low-lying body of water into irrigation canals. The Archimedes screw is still in use today for pumping liquids and granulated solids such as coal and grain.

The machine consists of a screw inside a hollow pipe. A screw can be thought of as an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder. The screw is turned usually by a windmill or by manual labour. As the bottom end of the tube turns, it scoops up a volume of water. This amount of water will slide up in the spiral tube as the shaft is turned, until it finally pours out from the top of the tube and feeds the irrigation systems.

The contact surface between the screw and the pipe does not need to be perfectly water-tight because of the relatively large amount of water being scooped at each turn with respect to the angular frequency and angular speed of the screw. Also, water leaking from the top section of the screw leaks into the previous one and so on, so a sort of mechanical equilibrium is achieved while using the machine, thus preventing a decrease in mechanical efficiency.

The "screw" does not necessarily need to turn inside the casing, but can be allowed to turn with it in one piece. A screw could be sealed with Pitch resin or some other adhesive to its casing, or, cast as a single piece in bronze, as some researchers have postulated as being the devices used to irrigate Nebuchadnezzar II's Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Hanging Gardens were one of the 7 Wonders. Depictions of Greek and Roman water screws show the screws being powered by a human treading on the outer casing to turn the entire apparatus as one piece, which would require that the casing be rigidly attached to the screw.

Along with transferring water to irrigation ditches, this device was also used for "stealing" land from under sea level in the Netherlands and other places in the creation of polders. A part of the sea would be enclosed and the water would be pushed up out of the enclosed area, starting the process of draining the land for use in farming. Depending on the length and diameter of the screws, more than one machine could be used to successively lift the same water.

Archimedes screws are used in sewage treatment plants because they cope well with varying rates of flow and with suspended solids. An auger in a snow blower or grain elevator is essentially an Archimedes screw.

Archimedes' screw
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