Surprising Science

By on December 29, 2010

A replica of a giant 13th-century clock from Turkey.

Who invented the camera? Not Jacques Daguerre or the Chevalier brothers. Their developments in photography would not have been possible without the work of Ibn Al-Haytham, an Arabic scientist who was the first to offer a scientific explanation for human vision in works published around the year 1015.

Or how about the first man to fly? Wilbur Wright, right? Abbas ibn Firnas, an Arab engineer who lived in Cordoba, Spain during the Muslim occupation of that country, turned himself into flying machine more than 1,000 years before the Wright brothers.

These are just two of the scientific achievements of Muslim civilization that are highlighted in 1,001 Inventions, a new exhibit at the New York Hall of Science. The exhibit, which runs through April, focuses on the Middle Ages, the period of history that some call the Dark Ages because it followed the collapse of Rome. But we wouldn’t have had the Renaissance, or algebra or chess, without the work of the inventors and thinkers presented in this show, which spans the 7th through the 17th centuries. Many were Muslims, but the show also presents people like Maimonides, a Jewish physician who also lived in Cordoba, and Zheng He, a Chinese general who pioneered ocean exploration in giant wooden ships. There’s also a  replica of a 20-foot-tall clock created by the 13th century Turkish engineer Al-Jazari. The show is packed with “I didn’t know that” moments for kids and grownups alike.

Some practical tips on visiting NYSCI, which is in Queens near the old Shea Stadium. 1,001 Inventions is one of those heavily promoted blockbuster shows that has already been in London and Istanbul, and it has been crowded during its New York run. Your best bet is to get there right when NYSCI opens at 9:30 a.m. Yes, this means going over the George Washington Bridge during the morning rush hour, but it should give you three or four good hours to tour the exhibits and still beat the evening rush back. You’ll need to follow the Triborough Bridge directions on this page to get there; get NYSCI staffers (or Verona’s Danielle Boone, who used to work there) to tell you about the corkscrew turn out of the parking lot that you’ll need to execute to get back on the Grand Central Parkway to come home. If you don’t have a NYSCI membership, which is one of the best bargains around, the tickets will cost you $11 adults and $8 children and seniors, and you should definitely buy them online before you go.

To help explain the exhibit, the show’s organizers have produced a short movie, The Library of Secrets. It’s a bit over-produced, and you’ll need to ignore the first minute or so, but if you have visual learners it can jump-start their thinking on the show.

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Copyright 2010 MyVeronaNJ

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