Notable Women in the History of Science: Hypatia of Alexandria

by Geek Squad Agent on ‎02-11-2013 05:27 PM (10,451 Views)

Hypatia (pronounced High-Pay-Shah) lived in Alexandria, in Hellenistic Egypt, from about 350 – 415 A.D. Educated by her father, Theon, she studied philosophy, astronomy, mechanics and mathematics. She rose to be leader of the Platonist school at Alexandria, where she shared the teachings of notable Greek philosophers of her time — Plato and Aristotle. Hypatia’s contributions to science include writings on mathematics and philosophy, as well as several inventions.


Hypatia is credited with developing an early method of of distilling water and a sealed device called a hydrometer used to measure the specific gravity of a liquid. Hypatia is also commonly credited with the invention of an early astrolabe and planesphere — devices used to measure the positions of the planets and stars relative to the position of the earth.


Hypatia edited and expanded on works of notable mathematicians of her time, sometimes including her own ideas, commentary and examples. For example, she edited the work “On the Conics of Apollonius” where the idea of dividing cones into different parts by a plane helped to develop the geometric ideas of ellipses, parabolas, and hyperbolas. By simplifying Apollonius’s concepts relating to cones, she made the ideas he imparted more accessible.


Although few physical examples of Hypatia’s inventions have survived from antiquity, and none of her actual texts have been found, she is the only woman in the group considered the founders of mathematics. She is a symbol of the power of freethinking, scientific reason, and invention.


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