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Historical Figures in Engineering: Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi

Posted by Azem Hoti on Nov 22, 2018 12:56:01 PM
Azem Hoti
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A Persian scholar and mathematician in the 9thCentury, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi translated many epic works of Greek and Indian mathematics and would go on to create algebra. We even get the word algorithm from his Latinisation of his name. A towering early figure in mathematics, many of his ideas are still used in science and engineering today.



Who Was Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi?


He was born circa 780 AD, to a Persian family in what is today Uzbekistan. After the Muslim conquest of Persia, Baghdad become the centre of scientific study in the region and drew in scholars from all over the world.

In around 820 AD Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmiwas made head librarian and astronomer at the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where he studied mathematics, geography, astronomy, cartography and translation. The House of Wisdom acquired and translated scientific and philosophical treatises, as well as published original research.



He worked on tools like the astrolabe and sundial and improved the understanding of the geography of the world through mathematics. His sundial could be used accurately from anywhere on earth and would be used in Mosques to determine the right time for prayer.

He also invented the quadrant, a tool to determine the time by observation of the sun and stars. His work in the field would revise the movements of the moon and the five known planets at the time, marking a turning point in Islamic astronomy. There is a crater on the far side of the moon named after him for these developments.


Historical Figures in Engineering: Muhammad ibn Musa al-KhwarizmiGeography

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi worked to translate and improve the earlier work of Ptolemy, mapping out large parts of the known world at that time with improved and more accurate dimensions. He even managed to map cities in Africa, Asia and India, supervising a team of 70 geographers to create a map of the world that would be used for years.




His book The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing presented the first systems of linear and quadratic equations. Until the 16thCentury this book was used as the main mathematical textbook in all European universities. The book introduced the concept of reduction: expressing and equation in its simplest form; completion: moving a negative quantity from one side of the equation to the other; and balancing: the subtraction of the same quantity from both side of an equation, which would prove revolutionary.

The book has since earnt Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi the title of the father of algebra. Elements within the work can be traced from Babylonian mathematics of the early 2nd millennium BCE through Hellenistic, Hebrew, and Hindu treatises. All scientific work is a continuation of what has gone before, and this shows that he was acutely aware of the knowledge of other cultures and periods.

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was also responsible for the widespread adoption of the Hindu-Arabic numerical system throughout the Middle East and Europe, the numbers 0-9 that we take for granted today. Much of his work would form the basis for elements of computer science, and science and engineering today would be very different and considerably poorer without his pioneering work.


Read about other historical figures in engineering, like Leonardo DaVinci or Hedy Lamarr.

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Topics: Engineering & Defence