...Redifining Journalism for Development

Recognizing the First Generation Inventors With Professor MK Othman


Let me start with Utopian scenario; imagine a land or situation whereby all your wishes are met effortless courtesy of technological facilities, available and accessible to you. Imagine a driver-less car, you enter with your wish of travelling to a choice destination in your mind, the car simply drives you and stops at exact point you had in your mind without making any effort. On the other hand, let us imagine another scenario, opposite to first one; the present technological facilities-making our lives easier and happier cease to function. No telephone to speak with others few kilometers away from us, no plane to crisscross the continents, no car to travel long distances, no weapon of mass destruction, and many other things making our lives comfortable, enjoyable and sometimes fearful. With these two scenarios, one cannot but doff his hat for the inventors of the various technologies worldwide for their ingenuity and creativity. What is the history of invention and what was the first invention done by mankind? A difficult question to precisely answer as invention predated the Paleolithic period. The inventions then, before Stone Age were those of fire control, cooking, fabrication of stone and bone tools, weaving, cave painting and few others. These inventions were found through evidences recorded by archaeologists in various historical places. Then, came to Neolithic period, more inventions were witnessed with relative superiority and complexity over inventions made in earlier years. Such period witnessed the invention of wheel, ship for sailing, needle; the earliest needles were invented in 4400 BC in Naqada Egypt as reported by Wikipedia. Those needles were made of bone and wood different from the modern ones manufactured from high carbon steel wire.
Then, came the first millennium BC, which witnessed advancement of inventions; lenses, watermill and cranes in Ancient Greece, mirror, glass blowing and warship in Lebanon, gears, paper and blast furnace in Ancient China.  The Ancient engineers in the Roman Empire invented segmental arch dam, bridge and some hydraulic structures for water flows and controls. These and many similar inventions were made between 8th and first century BC.In that Era of the first millenniums; 8th to 1st century BC, there were many inventors scattered globally but the most renown and famous was Archimedes.


He was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. He was and is still regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. He was generally considered as the greatest mathematician of all time. Archimedes was genius enough to anticipate the upcoming of modern calculus and algebra. This, he demonstrated by applying the concept of infinitesimals and the method of exhaustion to derive and rigorously prove a range of geometrical theorems such as area and circumference of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the area under a parabola. Among other important things he developed that is still being applied by many of us is “pi”, a constant parameter with a value of 22 over 7. This magic “pi” is used for computations of many trigonometric, cycles and volumes of structures. He also developed the Archimedes screw for lifting up water from mines or wells. The famous exclamation of ‘Eureka!’ was credited to this ancient Greek scholar Archimedes. He was reportedly proclaimed “Eureka! Eureka!” (Twice) after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, equivalent to the volume of water displaced by part of his submerged body. He then intuitively understood that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with relative precision, a hitherto an intractable problem to human race. He was said to have been so eager to share his discovery with public that he leapt out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked. This was how the word “Eureka” became a so famous that every scientist worth his/her salt knows it. Another important discovery made by Archimedes was his famous principle code named “Archimedes’ principle”. It states that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces and acts in the upward direction at the center of mass of the displaced fluid. This means that an object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. This is a fundamental law of physics applicable in fluid mechanics, whose practical application led to the design of ships, complicated hydraulic structures and similar practical applications very useful to mankind. Archimedes lived for 75 years between the year 287 BC and 212 BC. His life was full of useful discoveries that are being used to date. He was killed in 212 BC during the siege of Syracuse by a Roman soldier despite orders that he should not be harmed. Cicero, one of the Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists, visited Archimedes tomb and decorated it with a sphere and a cylinder as symbols of his mathematical discoveries. This was done to fulfill Archimedes’ request before his death.
           Cai Lun

Another notable inventor of the first millennium BC was Cai Lun. He was a Chinese inventor of paper. He was a Chinese political administrator credited with inventing modern paper. His invention included the use of raw materials such as bark, hemp, silk and fishing net. The sheets of fibre were suspended in water before removing for drying. In ancient times writings and inscriptions were generally made on tablets of bamboo or on pieces of silk. But silk being costly and bamboo heavy, they were not convenient to use. Ts’ai Lun [Cai Lun] then initiated the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, remnants of hemp, rags of cloth, and fishing nets. He submitted the process to the then Chinese emperor “Yuan-Hsing” and received commendation for his noble invention. That invention revolutionized the art of writing and record keeping, which up to date is very useful to mankind. This is why there are more records of inventions in the first millennium AD after that discovery as many people were able to record the inventions in writing.
The first millenniums AD marked the boom of discoveries as many groundbreaking inventions were witnessed. From 1000 AD to date, there were hundreds of notable inventors whose impacts have made significant positive changes to human race.
Da Vinci

Among these important and noble men was Leonardo Da Vinci, an Italian artist, scientist and polymath. Da Vinci invented a sundry machines and structures. These included prototype parachutes, tanks, flying machines and single-span bridges. He was also credited with the inventions of optical lens, grinder and various hydraulic machines that were fully adopted and used by various communities globally. Vinci was a famous Italian Renaissance polymath whose areas of interests cut-across invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. He has been variously called the father of palaeontology, ichnology, and architecture, and is widely considered one of the greatest painters of all time. Wikipedia reported that many historians and scholars regard Vinci as the prime exemplar of the “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man”, an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of Vinci interests were without precedent in recorded history, and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, while the man himself as mysterious and remote”. That famous man lived his life between the year 1452 and 1519 AD.

The next was Sir Isaac Newton. Newton was another famous inventor who lived his life between the year 1642 and 1726 AD. To date, the humanity uses the invention of this great achiever. He was an English scientist. Newton invented the reflecting telescope. This single invention greatly improved the capacity of telescopes and reduced optical distortion. (To be continued next week).

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  1. Sidney Clouston says

    Hello Prof. Othman:
    An interesting overview and perspective. I will look for the continued article.
    Thank you,
    Sidney Clouston

    1. Neptune Prime says

      Thank you, Mr Clouston.

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