"Eureka!"

Looking for the Saint Louis Science Center’s new blog?  Well, “Eureka!” – You have found it!  Now that you’re here, you can find all sorts of things, from what’s going on at the Science Center to what’s going on in space.  Take a look around and see for yourself!

So you probably have a few questions.  Why is our blog named Eureka!?  And who is that weird old man? 

Storytime!

Legend has it that over 2,200 years ago King Hieron of Syracuse (in Sicily) gave a goldsmith a bar of gold and ordered him to fashion it into a gold crown.  Once the crown was made, it appeared to weigh the exact same amount as the bar of gold the king had provided, but Hieron had some doubts.  He thought the goldsmith had cheated him by pocketing some of the gold, then mixing some silver into the crown to make up for the lost weight.  But how could the king prove it?

SLSC interpretation of Archimedes
Archimedes, the man behind the inspiration for the Saint Louis Science Center blog, Eureka!

By making a scientist figure it out, of course!  Hieron tasked Archimedes (mathematician, astronomer, scientist, engineer, and inventor extraordinaire) with figuring out if he had been robbed by the goldsmith.  But here’s the kicker – Archimedes was not allowed to take the crown apart or damage it in any way.  Archimedes had absolutely no clue how to do this.  The crown looked gold and weighed exactly what it ought to have weighed.  How on earth was he supposed to figure this out without melting it down and seeing if there was some silver in there?

Archimedes was stumped.  And apparently, also dirty.  So he went to take a bath. (Hygiene is important.)  Supposedly, as Archimedes stepped into the bath, he noticed that the water level rose as more of his body was submerged.  All of a sudden it hit him – the volume of an object could be determined by placing the object in a tub filled to the brim with water, then measuring the amount of water that spilled over.  And since silver is less dense than gold, it would occupy more space than an equivalent weight of pure gold.

With this flash of brilliance, Archimedes supposedly leapt out of the bath and ran (naked!) through the streets of Syracuse to find the king, shouting, “Eureka!” – “I have found it!”  (He also, according to legend, found that the goldsmith was in fact a thief.)

So there you have it!  Our blog is named after the exclamation made by an old man running naked through town.  (Kids, don’t try this at home unless the local king has offered you a get-out-of-jail-free card.)

The Eureka Effect

But of course, that’s not really true.  Eureka! is named after the excitement of scientific discovery, not a naked old scientist.  Because Eureka! is more than just this one story.  Eureka! is a celebration of that moment when you suddenly understand something that was previously incomprehensible. Many scientific discoveries have been attributed to this “Eureka Effect.” Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity supposedly came to him in a moment of inspiration following a discussion with friend Michele Besso.  Fourteen-year-old (!) Philo Farnsworth allegedly had a Eureka! moment while plowing a potato field – while watching the back and forth motion of the till, Farnsworth realized that an electron beam could scan an image line by line, thus leading to his invention of the image dissector and then the television

Little boy trying out a tangram at the Math Cart
Trying out the tangrams at the Math Cart!

But Eureka! moments don’t just happen to famous scientists and inventors.  Have you ever spent hours trying to solve a particularly troubling puzzle, only to have the answer pop into your head suddenly? (This happens to me all the time when I try to solve the tangram puzzles on the Science Center’s Math Cart. Those things are tough!)  Or have you ever suddenly just “gotten” a concept you’ve been struggling to understand forever? (Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion?  Not as unfathomable as my high-school-self thought…)

Eureka! moments are about more than a sudden flash of discovery.  These moments don’t appear out of thin air.  People can only have these epiphanies after creating a warehouse of observations and knowledge in their brain.  Eureka! moments are those special times when your brain makes connections between things you maybe didn’t even know you already knew. 

So keep exploring, keep trying new things, and keep paying attention – you never know when your next Eureka! moment may hit.

Written by Betsy, Research & Evaluation

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I LOVE THAT NAKED MAN!
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