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Discoveries And Inventions In Fundamental Sciences History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

There is a general concept that the sciences are exclusively the products of Western minds. Review of any standard book or encyclopedias regarding the history of science makes evident that the only contributors are Europeans and/or Americans. The most oft-mentioned names are Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Bacon, Da Vinci, Franklin, Newton, Benjamin etc. Thus it is made unavoidable to conclude the major contributions to the development of the modern sciences by other cultures are minimal. The advancements made by ancient Chinese, Indian or particularly, Muslim scholars are hardly mentioned in most standard books and literature.

Although Western civilization has made many invaluable contributions to the development of the sciences however, so have numerous other cultures. Unfortunately, Westerners have long been credited with discoveries that were made by muslims scientists many centuries before. Thus, many of the basic sciences were invented by non-Europeans. For instance, George Sarton states that modern Western medicine did not originate from Europe and that it actually arose from the (Islamic) orient.


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Major Inventions of Muslim Scientists:

A number of inventions and discoveries were made by the Muslim scientists throughout the history. Muslim geographers and navigators learned the use of magnetic needle, from the Chinese, and were the first to use magnetic needles in navigation. Muslims invented the compass and its use in navigation, which was later on passed to the West. European navigators relied on Muslim pilots and their instruments while exploring the unknown territories. Gustav Le Bon claims that the magnetic needle and compass were the inventions of Muslims. The Chinese, probably learned of it from Muslim traders. It is noteworthy that after the interaction with the Muslims during the 8th century the Chinese improved their navigational expertise.

Ibn Firnas a Muslim scientist of Islamic Spain invented, constructed and tested a flying machine in the 800’s A.D. Roger Bacon learned of flying machines from Arabic references to Ibn Firnas’ machine.

According to Will Durant, Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain, invented a watch-like device in 9th century, which kept accurate time. The Muslims also constructed a variety of highly accurate astronomical clocks for use in their observatories.

As early as the 9th century A.D Muslim mathematicians, the inventors of algebra, introduced the concept of using letters for unknown variables in equations. They solved a variety of complex equations through this system, including quadratic and cubic equations. They used symbols to develop and perfect the binomial theorem. Thabit bin Qurrah was among the first Mathematicians of the Islamic Empire who accomplished this precisely this as early as the 9th century A.D, and he was followed by Abu’l Wafa, whose 10th century book utilized algebra to advance geometry into an exact and simplified science.

In the 9th century Muslim astronomers made numerous improvements upon Ptolemy’s findings. They were the first astronomers to dispute his archaic ideas. They produced hundreds of highly accurate astronomical tables and star charts. Many of their calculations are so precise that they are regarded as contemporary. Copies of works on astronomy the Alphonsine Tables was transmitted to Europe via Islamic Spain, i.e. the Toledo Tables. In their critic of the Greeks, Muslims synthesized proof that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the orbits of other planets and the earth might be elliptical.

During the 9th century the Muslim physician originated the science of pharmacology and was developed into a highly refined and exact science. Muslim chemists, pharmacists and physicians produced thousands of drugs and/or crude herbal extracts one thousand years prior to the supposed birth of pharmacology.

During the 9th century, eyeglasses were invented by Ibn Firnas of Islamic Spain and they were manufactured and sold throughout Spain for over two centuries. Any mention of eyeglasses by Roger Bacon was simply a regurgitation of the work of al-Haytham (d. 1039), whose research Bacon frequently referred to.

During the 8th through 15th centuries, Muslim geographers produced untold volumes of books on the geography of Africa, Asia, India, China and the Indies. These writings included the world’s first geographical encyclopedias, almanacs and road maps. The 14th century masterpieces of Ibn Battutah provide a detailed view of the geography of the ancient world.

The science of ethnography was invented by the Muslim scholars of the 9th through 14th centuries. A number of Muslim geographers classified the races, writing detailed explanations of their physical appearances and unique cultural habits. Blumenbach’s works were insignificant in comparison.

Muslim physicians used a variety of specific substances to destroy microbes. They applied sulfur topically specifically to kill the scabies mite. Ar-Razi (10th century) used mercurial compounds as topical antiseptics.

During the 9th and 10th centuries, the Venetians learned of the art of fine glass production from Syrian artisans. Glass mirrors were in use in Islamic Spain as early as the 11th century.

Ibn Yunus al-Masri discovered the pendulum in the 10th century, and was the first to study and document its oscillatory motion. Its value for use in clocks was introduced by Muslim physicists during the 15th century.

Muslim mathematicians as early as the 10th century solved numerous equations of even higher degrees with ease. Binomial theorem was utilized and perfected for its use in the systematic solution of algebraic problems by hundreds of the Muslim mathematicians.

In the 10th century numerous Muslim chemists produced medicinal-grade alcohol through the process of distillation and manufactured the first distillation devices on a large scale for use in chemistry. They used alcohol as a solvent and antiseptic.

The prophet Muhammad wisely warned against entering or leaving a region suffering from plague thus introducing the concept of quarantine for the very first time in the 7th century A.D. later in the 10th century, Muslim physicians innovated the use of isolation wards for individuals suffering with communicable diseases.

As early as the 10th century, Muslim physicians and surgeons of 10th century used to apply purified alcohol to wounds as an antiseptic agent. In Islamic Spain surgeons utilized special methods for maintaining antisepsis prior to and during surgery. The origin of specific protocols for maintaining hygiene during the post-operative period raised the success rate so high that dignitaries throughout Europe came to Cordova, Spain, to be treated at what was comparably the “Mayo Clinic” of the Middle Ages.

Islam’s ar-Razi wrote an in-depth treatise on the venous system, accurately describing the function of the veins and their valves in the 10th century.

Timeline of Muslim Scientists from 700 – 900 AD:

8th century:

700s – [petroleum; civil engineering] In Baghdad the streets were constructed and paved with tar, coming from the petroleum that oozed in natural oil fields in the region. 

700s – 800s [cosmetics] In Spain a beauty institute was started by Ziryab (Blackbird).

740 – 828 – Al-Ama’i, Zoology, Botany, Animal husbandry. 

770 – 840 – [mathematics] The “Calculus of resolution and juxtaposition” (hisab al-jabr w’al-muqabala), more briefly referred to as al-jabr, or algebra, was developed by Kharazmi, “Algebra was a unifying theory which allowed rational numbers, irrational numbers, geometrical magnitudes, etc., to all be treated as “algebraic objects”. It gave mathematics a whole new development path so much broader in concept to that which had existed before, and provided a vehicle for future development of the subject. Another important aspect of the introduction of algebraic ideas was that it allowed mathematics to be applied to itself in a way which had not happened before. 

Al-Khwarizmi’s successors undertook a systematic application of arithmetic to algebra, algebra to arithmetic, both to trigonometry, algebra to the Euclidean theory of numbers, algebra to geometry, and geometry to algebra. This was how the creation of polynomial algebra, combinatorial analysis, numerical analysis, the numerical solution of equations, the new elementary theory of numbers, and the geometric construction of equations arose.” 

Late 700s – 800 – [musical science] Mansour Zalzal of Kufa was a musician (luth) and composer of the Abbasid era. Contributed musical scales that were later named after him (the Mansouri scale) and introduced positions (intervals) within scales such as the wasati-zalzal that was equidistant from the alwasati alqadima and wasati al-fors who made improvements on the design of the luth instrument and designed the Luth.

In 715 – 800 [chemistry] The Muslim chemist, Geber (Jabir ibn Hayyan), is considered the father of chemistry, for introducing the experimental scientific method for chemistry, such as alembic, still, retort, pure distillation, liquefaction, crystallisation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation, and filtration. He was the first chemist known to produce sulfuric acid, as well as many other laboratory instruments and chemical substances. His works include The elaboration of the Grand Elixir, The chest of wisdom in which he writes on nitric acid, Kitab al-Istitmam (translated to Latin later as Summa Perfectionis), and many others.

 715 – 800 [alchemy] Geber, introduced the first theories on the transmutation of metals, the philosopher’s stone, and the artificial creation of life in the laboratory. 

715 – 800 [glass] Geber added colour to glass by introducing small quantities of metallic oxides to the glass, such as manganese dioxide (magnesia). This was a new advancement in the glass industry unknown in antiquity. 

9th century:

800 – 868 – [biology, zoology, linguistics, language,] ‘Amr ibn Bahr al-Jahiz wrote a number of works on zoology, lexicography, rhetoric, and Arabic grammar. In his most famous book the Book of Animals, he was the first to discuss food chains, and environmental determinism by arguing that the environment can determine the physical characteristics of the inhabitants in a certain community he also stated that the origins of different colors of human skin is the result of the environment. The struggle for existence and the theory of evolution by natural selection was first discussed by him.

800 – 873 Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (Latinized, Alkindus.) was an expert in Optics, Metallurgy, Cryptography, Medicine, Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy. He worked at the House of Wisdom which was set up in 810. He introduces quantification into medicine in his book De Gradibus. 

In 810 the works of Greek and Indian scientists on astronomy and mathematics were translated into Arabic in Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom) which was set up in Baghdad.

820 – [mathematics] Mahani (full name Abu Abdollah Muhammad ibn Isa Mahani – in Arabic Al-Mahani). Conceived the idea of reducing geometrical problems such as duplicating the cube to algebraic problems. 

836 – 901 [anatomy; astronomy; mathematics; mechanics] Born Thabit Ibn Qurra (Latinized, Thebit.) made considerable contributions in mathematics particularly in number theory and geometry while studying at Baghdad’s House of Wisdom under the Banu Musa brothers. He discovered the theorem by which pairs of amicable numbers can be found; i.e., two numbers such that each is the sum of the proper divisors of the other. Later, al-Baghdadi (b. 980) and al-Haytham (born 965) developed variants of the theorem. 

838 – 870 – Tabari (full name: Ali ibn Sahl Rabban Al-Tabari) made many contributions in Calligraphy, Mathematics, Literature, and Medicine. 

In mid 800s – [chemistry] Al-Kindi gave 107 recipes for making perfumes and also wrote on the distillation of wine as that of rose water, in his book Kitab Kimia al-`otoor wa al-tas`eedat (book of the chemistry of perfumes and distillations).

 850 – 930 [mathematics] Abu Kamil of Egypt (full name, Abu Kamil Shuja ibn Aslam ibn Muhammad ibn Shuja) made an important link in the development of algebra between al-Khwarizmi and al-Karaji’s time not using the symbols, but writing powers of x in words, he had begun to understand what should be written in symbols.

852 – [aviation, flight] Abbas Ibn Firnas (Armen Firman) made the first successful parachute fall near Córdoba, Spain using a huge wing-like cloak.

858 – 929 – [astronomy – mathematics] Al-Battani (Albategnius) made valuable works on astronomy, trigonometry etc. 

860 – Al-Farghani (Al-Fraganus) was master in Civil engineering and Astronomy.

864 – 930 – [chemistry; medicine] Al-Razi (Rhazes) studied Astronomy, Chemistry, Medicine, Ophthalmology and Smallpox. He wrote on Naft (naphta or petroleum) and its distillates in his book “Kitab sirr al-asrar” (book of the secret of secrets). When choosing a site to build Baghdad’s hospital, he hung pieces of fresh meat in different parts of the city and selected the location where the meat took the longest to rot, for building the hospital. He also suggested that patients must not be told about their real condition so that fear or despair may not affect the healing process. His notable works were on soap, alkali, caustic soda, and glycerine. He also gave the descriptions of equipment, processes and methods for their preparation in his book Kitab al-Asrar (book of secrets) in 925.

 870 – 950 – Al-Farabi (Al-Pharabius) wrote on early Islamic philosophy, logic in Islamic philosophy, Muslim sociology, musical science and political science.

In  875 – [aviation, flight] Abbas Ibn Firnas made the first flight in a hang glider with artificial wings, but his landing was unsuccessful. He also worked on mechanics of Flight, Planetarium, and Artificial Crystals. Ibn Firnas was the first to investigate the means of flight.

 800s – [chemistry; petroleum] Oilfields in Baku, Azerbaijan, generated commercial activities and industry. These oilfields, were wells dug to get the Naft (or naphta, or crude petroleum) these were described by geographer Masudi in the 10th century and by Marco Polo in the 13th century, who described the output of those wells as hundreds of shiploads. 

10th century:

900s [mathematics; accounting] By this century, three systems of counting were used in the Arab world. First was the Finger-reckoning arithmetic, in this system the numerals were written entirely in words this system was used by the business community. Second was the sexagesimal system, originated by the Babylonians, in this system the numerals were denoted by letters of the arabic alphabet it was used by Arab mathematicians in astronomical work. The third was the Hindu-Arabic numeral system, which was used with various sets of symbols. Arithmetic of this system required the use of a dust board (a sort of handheld blackboard) because “the methods required moving of numbers in the calculation and rubbing some out as the calculation proceeded.” Later these methods were modified by Al-Uqlidisi (born 920) for pen and paper use. Eventually the advances enabled the decimal system to be used throughout the world in its standard form. 

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