Innallaha ma3a Sabireen
Islamic Science Rediscovered
Explore 1,000 years of science history you may never have known existed
Quick, who designed the first flying apparatus? If you answered that it was the Wright brothers in the late 19th century, or even Leonardo DaVinci in the 1400s, you're a little off. Records show that the earliest known person to build and pilot a flying device was Abbas Bin Firnas in ninth-century Islamic Spain.
So why have most of us never heard of him? Because the West has forgotten many of the great accomplishments by men and women of science who called the Islamic world home.
After Rome collapsed in 476 CE (Common Era), much of classical science – developed by Greeks and other Europeans such as Aristotle and Ptolemy – was temporarily “lost” to the West as Europe descended into the cultural gulf known as the Middle or Dark Ages. But science and technology continued to grow and flourish in the East from roughly 700 to 1700 CE.
This remarkable time period is explored in the new Liberty Science Center’s first traveling exhibition: Islamic Science Rediscovered.
Never before presented in North America, this important exhibition from MTE Studios in South Africa was first presented at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It will help guests of all ages understand how the flowering of Islam led to a new kind of prosperity across large areas of the known world, from Spain to China. Knowledge was valued and learning was encouraged, leading to high levels of achievement in mathematics, science and technology.
This exhibition will introduce you to many technological wonders of the ancient world, introduce some of the great Islamic scientists, and allow you to experiment and understand the ideas behind the science. You'll even visit a re-created Souk, an Arabic market, as part of your introduction to the Islamic world.
Here’s what else you’ll find:
Pioneers of Flight
Find out what it took to take to the air a millennium before the Wright Brothers. See a model of the flying machine successfully launched by Abbas Bin Firnas in 880 CE, along with an interactive aerodynamics display and a hands-on kinetic model that simulates the movement of a bird’s wing.
Medical Inventions and Discoveries
Learn about the knowledge of the human body gleaned by ancient Islamic physicians. Guests can grip a pulse sensor to see their own heartbeats displayed against the backdrop of Ibn Nafi’s groundbreaking diagram of the human circulatory system, which dates to 1242 CE. Also examine replicas of his sophisticated surgical tools used by Islamic physicians, which are surprisingly similar to those in use today.
The World of Islamic Astronomy
By the ninth century CE, astronomers across the globe used one language to communicate, and that language was Arabic, due to advances of the Islamic world in astronomy. Here, you’ll see how the tools they used to make those advances, from a quadrant to an armillary sphere to an astrolabe (left), which is essentially a hand-held astronomical computer that works in two dimensions.
Preceeding Copernicus’s 14th-century ideas about the shape of the solar system by hundreds of years, Islamic scientists created three-dimensional models with the Earth enclosed in a giant sphere inscribed with stars and planets. Visitors can experiment with one of these Celestial Globes, then enter a small-scale model of the massive Maragha Observatory, built by the Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan in 1259 CE for astronomer Nasir-al-Dina al-Tusi in what is today Azerbaidjan.
Mathematics, Art and Architecture
Islamic mathematicians devised complex mathematical formulas and developed geometric and trigonomical solutions to mysteries of astronomy, optics and engineering. Art and architecture from this time period was based in geometric patterns, and this style has remained an important influence on artists, such as M.C. Escher, through the centuries. Learn abouit the patterns and principles of Arabic art and architecture in four hands-on exhibits.
The Foundation of Optical Science
The 10th-century Muslim physician Al Haytham, who worked in Cairo, invented the pinhole camera, discovered how the eye works, studied eye disease, developed accurate theories about the laws of refraction – how light bends – and understood that light is made up of distinct colors, explaining the rainbow effect. Conduct various experiments in a recreation of Al Haytham’s optical laboratory and marvel at a giant model of the human eye, with cutaway sections illustrating the findings of Al Haytham and others.
Fine Technology and Invention
Using delicate mechanisms, Islamic master engineers developed automated devices ranging from practical items to clever inventions intended simply for amusement. Marvel at eight engaging displays, including a working, four-foot tall recreation of Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock (right), a kinetic sculpture with secret doors and musicians playing instruments that once stood over 20 feet tall, as well as the beautiful Scribe Clock. Also enjoy re-creations of “trick” devices that played a perpetual flute, dispensed water in regular intervals for hand washing, and other amusements.
As medieval Muslim cities grew into large urban centers, engineers were challenged to solve problems such as providing reliable water supplies. To do so, they created a variety of ingenious water-raising machines by fashioning new kinds of components: pistons, wheels, cogs and crank shafts. Guests can see interactive models of five types of water-raising devices and try them out using their own energy instead of water. They can also operate a Noria Wheel, refined by Islamic engineers to simultaneously lift water and grind grain in an automatic mill.
The Greatest Explorers
Muslim explorers and traders traveled over vast distances from China to Central Africa. Visit a 40-foot model of a ship commanded by Chinese Admiral Zheng He in the 13th century. The ship was one of a fleet of 300, each a floating city with stables and vegetable gardens for extended journeys. Also enjoy playing a video game portraying the travels of another great explorer, Ibn Battuta, whose pilgrimage to Mecca turned into a 29-year expedition.
The House of Wisdom
This vital institution of higher learning was founded in Baghdad in the ninth century and attracted an international cadre of scholars. In the Interactive Library, learn about the main achievements of those associated with the House of Wisdom, such as the creation of algebra.
See the news release for this exhibition written in Arabic.