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The Science and History of the Sea

The Science and History of the Sea

Session 1: TBA at the USS Constitution Museum. Museum staff led.

Introductory movie (10 minutes)

  • Design your own frigate based on the templates of Constitution’s ship designer Joshua Humphreys: Students will produce drawings.
  • Made in America – what materials were used to create the USS Constitution? Students will create a list of 5 materials from the New England region.
  • Which of these woods is the hardest? Through dropping balls into difference woods, we can study the difference in how the ball bounces back. The kinetic energy of the rebounding ball is related to the amount of energy absorbed by the wood. Students will review with the teacher the difference between kinetic energy and potential energy.
  • Test your ship against other frigates in this hands-on challenge. Choose between three different types of ships for the ultimate test of size, speed and power: Students use this interactive computer simulation.
  • What’s so great about copper? Learn about the metals used in construction
  • Build a ship: Assemble 2D pieces into a 3D model – how quickly can they accurately complete the task?
  • Construction and launch: View this video, and then explain how a ship is safely launched from a drydock into the ocean.  Students will demonstrate that they understand the procedure by writing a step-by-step paragraph explaining the sequence.
  • How can a ship sail against the wind? Through a hands on experiment, see how changing the angle of the sail affects the motion of the boat: Students should be able to explain in complete sentences how the same wind can make a ship move forwards or backwards.
  • On the 2nd story of the museum, operate a working block-and-tackle system. This uses a classic simple machine. It is a system of two or more pulleys with a rope or cable threaded between them, usually used to lift or pull heavy loads. Back in the school building, we’ll review each of the classic simple machines.

On the 2nd story of the museum, operate a working block-and-tackle system. This uses a classic simple machine. It is a system of two or more pulleys with a rope or cable threaded between them, usually used to lift or pull heavy loads.

pulley simple machine


Session 2: TBA at the USS Constitution Museum. Museum staff led.

Details TBA.


Session 3: USS Constitution Visitor Center, Building 5 (teacher led)

10 minute orientation video

Can you locate where our school is on the 3D Boston Naval Shipyard model?

As students tour the visitor center, they practice ELA reading and writing skills (listed below) by briefly summarizing something they learn from each of these sections: They are encouraged to create drawings/tracings as they see fit to help illustrate their text.

  • Describe how ropes are made from string in the ropewalk
  • From wood & sail to steel & steam
  • Preparing for new technology
  • The shipyard in the Civil War
  • Ships and shipbuilding
  • The Navy Yard 1890-1974
  • Chain Forge and Foundary
  • The Navy Yard during World Wars I and II
  • Shipyard workers 1890 to 1974
  • The shipyard during the Cold War era 1945-1974


Session 4: Teaching math using the USS Constitition

Teaching math: Lessons from the USS Constitution

This teaching supplement contains math lessons organized in grade-level order. However, because many of the math skills used in these lessons are taught in multiple grades, both grade-level and lesson content are listed below.

Pre K–K 
Estimating Numbers of Objects

Grade 1
Estimating and Comparing Numbers of Objects

Grade 2
Estimating and Comparing Length, Width and Perimeter

Grade 3
Computing Time and Creating a Schedule

Grade 4
Drawing Conclusions from Data Sets

Grade 5
Creating and Interpreting Graphs from Tables

Grade 6
Range, Mean, Median and Mode and Stem-and-Leaf Plots

Grade 7
Converting Between Systems of Measurement

Grade 8
Calculating Volume

Algebra I (Grade 9–10)
Describing Distance and Velocity Graphs

Algebra I (Grade 9–10)
Writing Linear Equations

Algebra II (Grade 9–12)
Using Projectile Motion to Explore Maximums and Zeros

Precalculus & Advanced Math (Grade 10–12)
Using Parabolic Equations & Vectors to Describe the Path of Projectile Motion


Learning Standards

MA 2006 Science Curriculum Framework

2. Engineering Design. Central Concept: Engineering design requires creative thinking and consideration of a variety of ideas to solve practical problems. Identify tools and simple machines used for a specific purpose, e.g., ramp, wheel, pulley, lever.

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-ETS4-5(MA). Explain how a machine converts energy, through mechanical means, to do work. Collect and analyze data to determine the efficiency of simple and complex machines.

Benchmarks, American Association for the Advancement of Science

In the 1700s, most manufacturing was still done in homes or small shops, using small, handmade machines that were powered by muscle, wind, or moving water. 10J/E1** (BSL)

In the 1800s, new machinery and steam engines to drive them made it possible to manufacture goods in factories, using fuels as a source of energy. In the factory system, workers, materials, and energy could be brought together efficiently. 10J/M1*

The invention of the steam engine was at the center of the Industrial Revolution. It converted the chemical energy stored in wood and coal into motion energy. The steam engine was widely used to solve the urgent problem of pumping water out of coal mines. As improved by James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, it was soon used to move coal; drive manufacturing machinery; and power locomotives, ships, and even the first automobiles. 10J/M2*

The Industrial Revolution developed in Great Britain because that country made practical use of science, had access by sea to world resources and markets, and had people who were willing to work in factories. 10J/H1*

The Industrial Revolution increased the productivity of each worker, but it also increased child labor and unhealthy working conditions, and it gradually destroyed the craft tradition. The economic imbalances of the Industrial Revolution led to a growing conflict between factory owners and workers and contributed to the main political ideologies of the 20th century. 10J/H2

Today, changes in technology continue to affect patterns of work and bring with them economic and social consequences. 10J/H3*

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Frameworks

5.11 Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of colonial Massachusetts, using historical societies and museums as needed. (H, E)

5.32 Describe the causes of the war of 1812 and how events during the war contributed to a sense of American nationalism. A. British restrictions on trade and impressment.  B. Major battles and events of the war, including the role of the USS Constitution, the burning of the Capitol and the White House, and the Battle of New Orleans.

National Council for the Social Studies: National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Time, Continuity and Change: Through the study of the past and its legacy, learners examine the institutions, values, and beliefs of people in the past, acquire skills in historical inquiry and interpretation, and gain an understanding of how important historical events and developments have shaped the modern world. This theme appears in courses in history, as well as in other social studies courses for which knowledge of the past is important.

A study of the War of 1812 enables students to understand the roots of our modern nation. It was this time period and struggle that propelled us from a struggling young collection of states to a unified player on the world stage. Out of the conflict the nation gained a number of symbols including USS Constitution. The victories she brought home lifted the morale of the entire nation and endure in our nation’s memory today. – USS Constitution Museum, National Education Standards

Common Core ELA: Reading Instructional Texts

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings

Common Core ELA Writing

Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

External links

The USS Constitution Museum, located in the Charlestown Navy Yard, which is part of the Boston National Historical Park


Aristotle’s laws of motion

Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης) 384–322 BCE was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, in classical Greece.

Aristotle bust

At 17 years of age, he joined Plato’s Academy in Athens and remained there until the age of thirty-seven (c. 347 BCE)


His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, logic, ethics, poetry, theater, music, linguistics, and politics. They constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy.

Shortly after Plato died, Aristotle left Athens and, at the request of Philip of Macedon, tutored Alexander the Great beginning in 343 BC.

Aristotle’s views on physical science profoundly shaped medieval scholarship. Their influence extended from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages into the Renaissance, and were not replaced systematically until the Enlightenment and theories such as classical mechanics.

  • excerpted and adapted from Aristotle. (2016, October 20). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.


Aristotle’s laws of motion

Aristotle bust
Aristotle set out 3 laws of motion, based on observations (but not on experiment)

* objects fall at a constant rate, that depends on their size and weight.

* there is a difference between “violent motion” versus “natural motion”

* objects in the heavens (the celestial sphere) move in circular motion,
without any external force compelling them to do so.
objects on Earth (the terrestrial sphere) move in straight lines,
unless forced to move in a circular motion.

Here is the modern, correct view of how gravity accelerates objects of different masses. (Does the mass and size affect the speed at which they fall?)

Yet here is Aristotle’s view of how gravity accelerates objects of different masses. (How does this differ from the previous animation?)

Aristotles view of gravity

What about pushing and pulling?

Natural vs Unnatural Motion

For objects on Earth, Aristotle thought that objects moved by people (“unnatural motion”) would move in a straight line, and when that “unnatural force” ran out, then natural motion would take over.

So what would happen if a canon fired a cannonball? Aristotle supposed that it would move in a straight line (due to the unnatural force), and then would fall straight down (due to a different, natural force.)


For Aristotle, once “violent motion” (from people) extinguished itself, natural motion takes over, and then the cannon ball falls to its natural place, the earth.

An animation of what this would look like.

However, as Galielo showed in the 1500’s, Aristotle’s view isn’t correct at all.  Anyone who watches an archer fire an arrow into the air, and carefully observes, would see that this doesn’t happen.

Galileo showed that the vertical motion (up/down) and horizontal motion (size-to-side) are independent.

When you fire an arrow, cannonball, or pop-fly in baseball, into the air, what happens?

The vertical motion slowly decreases, reaches zero (at the peak), and then increases in the opposite (downward) direction.

The horizontal motion actually stays constant (doesn’t speed up, or slow down.)


Heavenly forces vs terrestrial forces

Aristotle thought that heavenly (celestial) objects, by their nature, forever moved in circles – without any external force acting on them.

Earthly (terrestrial) objects were believed to have a separate set of laws of motion. Earthly objects supposedly would always stop moving, of their own accord, on their own.

As we will learn, there aren’t really 2 sets of laws (heavenly and earthly); rather, the laws of nature are the same everywhere:

* objects naturally travel only in straight lines.
* for objects to have a circular motion requires some external force,
keeping them pulled into a circular path

How could one of the greatest thinkers of the classical world be in error?
The ancient Greeks had a preference for attempting to find truth
through logic alone. Greeks viewed observations of the physical world
as a valid way  to learn, but held this to be inferior to intellect.

Also, Aristotle never ran experiments, so he was very limited in
what he could observe.
In the medieval era, Galileo (and others) ran controlled experiments.
The results of these experiments were analyzed with math.

Their findings ended the acceptance of Aristotelian physics.

Galileo learned critical thinking skills from his father, Vincenzo

Galileo and Einstein: History of Physics – Prof Michael Fowler

Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo.

Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo.

Galileo continued his father’s tradition of critical inquiry

Galileo rolled balls along surfaces tilted at different angles.

a. When ball rolls downward, it moves with Earth’s gravity, and its speed increases.

b. When ball rolls upward, it moves against gravity and loses speed.

c. When ball rolls on level plane, it doesn’t move with or against gravity.

 Galileo rolls balls slope

a. The ball rolls down the incline, and then up the opposite incline,
and reaches its initial height.

b. As the angle of the upward incline is reduced,
the ball rolls a greater distance before reaching its initial height.

c. If there is no friction, then the ball will never stop – unless it hits something.

Galileo rolls balls no friction never stops

Galileo’s conclusion was supported by another line of reasoning.

He described two inclined planes facing each other, as in Figure 3.4.
A ball released to roll down one plane would roll up the other to reach nearly the same height.
The smoother the planes were, the more nearly equal would be the initial and final heights.
He noted that the ball tended to attain the same height,
even when the second plane was longer,
and inclined at a smaller angle than the first plane.
Always, the ball went farther and tended to reach the same height.

Inclined Plane – Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens PBS NOVA

Video clip: Galileo’s inclined plane PBS media

Advanced: Similar studies with the moment of inertia

Rolling balls, cylinders and tubes down inclined plane: Moment of Inertia



Something special: The brachistochrone – curve of quickest descent. And the tautochrone- the curve for which the time taken by an object sliding without friction in uniform gravity to its lowest point is independent of its starting point.



Aristotle’s laws of motion.

Excerpted from a lecture by Professor Michael Fowler, U. Va. Physics, 9/3/2008


What Aristotle achieved in those years in Athens was to begin a school of organized scientific inquiry on a scale far exceeding anything that had gone before. He first clearly defined what was scientific knowledge, and why it should be sought. In other words, he single-handedly invented science as the collective, organized enterprise it is today. Plato’s Academy had the equivalent of a university mathematics department, Aristotle had the first science department, truly excellent in biology, but, as we shall see, a little weak in physics.

After Aristotle, there was no comparable professional science enterprise for over 2,000 years, and his work was of such quality that it was accepted by all, and had long been a part of the official orthodoxy of the Christian Church 2,000 years later. This was unfortunate, because when Galileo questioned some of the assertions concerning simple physics, he quickly found himself in serious trouble with the Church.
Aristotle’s method of investigation:

defining the subject matter

considering the difficulties involved, by reviewing the generally accepted views on the subject, and suggestions of earlier writers

presenting his own arguments and solutions

This is the pattern modern research papers follow, Aristotle was laying down the standard professional approach to scientific research.

Aristotle often refuted an opposing argument by showing that it led to an absurd conclusion, this is called reductio ad absurdum (reducing something to absurdity). As we shall see later, Galileo used exactly this kind of argument against Aristotle himself, to the great annoyance of Aristotelians [people who fully agreed with Aristotle] 2,000 years after Aristotle.

[Aristotle himself likely would not have minded later thinkers disagreeing with him; in his lifetime Aristotle would change his mind, if he found new information or a more logical argument.]

In contrast to Plato, who felt the only worthwhile science to be the contemplation of abstract forms, Aristotle practiced detailed observation and dissection of plants and animals, to try to understand how each fitted into the grand scheme of nature, and the importance of the different organs of animals.

It is essential to realize that the world Aristotle saw around him in everyday life was very different indeed from that we see today. Every modern child has since birth seen cars and planes moving around, and soon finds out that these things are not alive, like people and animals. In contrast, most of the motion seen in fourth century Greece was people, animals and birds, all very much alive. This motion all had a purpose, the animal was moving to someplace it would rather be, for some reason, so the motion was directed by the animal’s will.

For Aristotle, this motion was therefore fulfilling the “nature” of the animal, just as its natural growth fulfilled the nature of the animal.

To account for motion of things obviously not alive, such as a stone dropped from the hand, Aristotle extended the concept of the “nature” of something to inanimate matter. He suggested that the motion of such inanimate objects could be understood by postulating that elements tend to seek their natural place in the order of things:

So earth moves downwards most strongly,
water flows downwards too, but not so strongly, since a stone will fall through water.
In contrast, air moves up (bubbles in water),
and fire goes upwards most strongly of all, since it shoots upward through air.

This general theory of how elements move has to be elaborated, of course, when applied to real materials, which are mixtures of elements. He would conclude that wood has both earth and air in it, since it does not sink in water.

Natural Motion and Violent Motion

Things also move because they are pushed. A stone’s natural tendency, if left alone and unsupported, is to fall, but we can lift it, or even throw it through the air.

Aristotle termed such forced motion “violent” motion as opposed to natural motion.

The term “violent” just means that some external force is applied to it.

Aristotle was the first to think quantitatively about the speeds involved in these movements. He made two quantitative assertions about how things fall (natural motion):

Heavier things fall faster, the speed being proportional to the weight.

The speed of fall of a given object depends inversely on the density of the medium it is falling through.

So, for example, the same body will fall twice as fast through a medium of half the density.

Notice that these rules have a certain elegance, an appealing quantitative simplicity. And, if you drop a stone and a piece of paper, it’s clear that the heavier thing does fall faster, and a stone falling through water is definitely slowed down by the water, so the rules at first appear plausible.

The surprising thing is, in view of Aristotle’s painstaking observations of so many things, he didn’t check out these rules in any serious way.

It would not have taken long to find out if half a brick fell at half the speed of a whole brick, for example. Obviously, this was not something he considered important.

From the second assertion above, he concluded that a vacuum cannot exist, because if it did, since it has zero density, all bodies would fall through it at infinite speed which is clearly nonsense.

For violent motion, Aristotle stated that the speed of the moving object was in direct proportion to the applied force.

This means first that if you stop pushing, the object stops moving.

This certainly sounds like a reasonable rule for, say,
pushing a box of books across a carpet, or an ox dragging a plough through a field.

(This intuitively appealing picture, however, fails to take account of
the large frictional force between the box and the carpet.
If you put the box on a sled and pushed it across ice,
it wouldn’t stop when you stop pushing.
Centuries later, Galileo realized the importance of friction in these situations.)

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework
HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion is a
mathematical model describing change in motion (the acceleration) of objects when
acted on by a net force.

HS-PS2-10(MA). Use free-body force diagrams, algebraic expressions, and Newton’s laws of motion to predict changes to velocity and acceleration for an object moving in one dimension in various situations

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

The roots of Western civilization: Ancient Greece, C. 800-300 BCE.
7.34 Describe the purposes and functions of development of Greek institutions such as the lyceum, the gymnasium, and the Library of Alexandria, and identify the major accomplishments of the ancient Greeks.

WHI.33 Summarize how the Scientific Revolution and the scientific method led to new theories of the universe and describe the accomplishments of leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, including Bacon, Copernicus, Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and

A FRAMEWORK FOR K-12 SCIENCE EDUCATION: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas
How can one predict an object’s continued motion, changes in motion, or stability?

Interactions of an object with another object can be explained and predicted using the concept of forces, which can cause a change in motion of one or both of the interacting objects… At the macroscale, the motion of an object subject to forces is governed by Newton’s second law of motion… An understanding of the forces between objects is important for describing how their motions change, as well as for predicting stability or instability in systems at any scale.

Discovery of conservation of momentum

You can explore this history-oriented lesson by Prof. Michael Fowler.

Momentum, Work and Energy Michael Fowler, U. Va. Physics

In 530 A.D., working in Alexandria, Byzantine philosopher John Philoponus developed a concept of momentum in his commentary to Aristotle’s Physics. Aristotle had claimed that everything that is moving must be kept moving by something. For example, a thrown ball must be kept moving by motions of the air.

Aristotle bust

Most writers continued to accept Aristotle’s theory until the time of Galileo, but a few were skeptical.

Philoponus pointed out the absurdity in Aristotle’s claim that motion of an object is promoted by the same air that is resisting its passage.

He proposed instead that an impetus was imparted to the object in the act of throwing it.

Ibn Sina (Arabic ابن سینا‎) (known by his Latinized name, Avicenna) read Philoponus and published his own theory of motion in The Book of Healing in 1020. He agreed that an impetus is imparted to a projectile by the thrower – but unlike Philoponus, who believed that it was temporary, and would decline even in a vacuum – Ibn Sina viewed it as a persistent. He understood that it required external forces – such as air resistance – to dissipate it.


These ideas were refined by European philosophers Peter Olivi and Jean Buridan. Buridan, who in about 1350 was made rector of the University of Paris, referred to impetus as proportional to the weight times the speed.

Like Ibn Sīnā, Buridan held that impetus (momentum) would not go away by itself; it could only dissipate if it encountered air resistance, friction, etc.





René Descartes believed that the total “quantity of motion” in the universe is conserved: quantity of motion = size and speed.

But Descartes didn’t distinguish between mass and volume, so this is not a specific equation.

Leibniz, in his “Discourse on Metaphysics”, gave an experimental argument against Descartes’ idea of “quantity of motion”.

Leibniz dropped blocks of different sizes, different distances.

He found that [size speed] did not yield a conserved quantity.


The first correct statement of conservation of momentum:
English mathematician John Wallis, 1670
Mechanica sive De Motu, Tractatus Geometricus:

Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687

Defined “quantity of motion”, as “arising from the velocity and quantity of matter conjointly”
-> mass x velocity – which identifies it as momentum.

Isaac Newton

Adapted from “Momentum.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Oct. 2015.

External resources

The cause of motion from Aristotle to Philoponus

The cause of motion Descartes to Newton

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-PS2-2. Use mathematical representations to show that the total momentum of a system of interacting objects is conserved when there is no net force on the system. Emphasis is on the qualitative meaning of the conservation of momentum and the quantitative understanding of the conservation of linear momentum in
interactions involving elastic and inelastic collisions between two objects in one
HS-PS2-3. Apply scientific principles of motion and momentum to design, evaluate, and refine a device that minimizes the force on a macroscopic object during a collision. Clarification Statement: Both qualitative evaluations and algebraic manipulations may be used.

Common Core Math

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.EE.B.4  Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.EE.C.7  Solve linear equations in one variable
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSA.SSE.B.3  Choose and produce an equivalent form of an expression to reveal and explain properties of the quantity represented by the expression. (including isolating a variable)
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSA.CED.A.4  Rearrange formulas to highlight a quantity of interest, using the same reasoning as in solving equations. For example, rearrange Ohm’s law V = IR to highlight resistance R.
  • http://www.corestandards.org/Math/

Mesopotamian science

The development of astronomy and science through the empires of Mesopotamia

The history part of this outline comes from Houghton Mifflin Historical-Social Science: World History: Ancient Civilizations: Eduplace Social studies review: LS_6_04_01

The integration with science standards was developed by R. Kaiser.

This historical overview is brief, and by necessity, highly simplified.

Akkadian era – 3000 – 2000 BCE.

Sumerian city-state kings fought over land from 3000 to 2000 B.C.
Sargon of Akkad was powerful leader, creator of worldʼs first empire – took over northern and southern Mesopotamia around 2350 B.C. – empire—many different peoples, lands controlled by one ruler (emperor) The Akkadian Empire
Sargonʼs empire was called Akkadian Empire
Included the Fertile Crescent—lands from Mediterranean Sea to Persian Gulf
Known for rich soil, water, and good farming
Sargonʼs conquests spread Akkadian ideas, culture, writing system
Empires encourage trade and may bring peace to their peoples
Peoples of several cultures share ideas, technology, customs.

Science & Mathematics

As early as 2000 BCE, Babylonians used pre-calculated tables to assist with arithmetic such as:

This kind of math later became useful for their early astronomy. They developed advanced forms of geometry, some of which was used in astronomy.

Metallurgy : This is one of the origins of Chemistry.


“made substantial advances in crafting higher quality bronze tools and weapons.
It took trade to relatively distant places – because tin ore caches are sparse – to create tin-alloy bronze.
This was the standard to aim for in the ancient world – and also prevented metal-smiths from developing limps and dying of gradual arsenic poisoning. (not joking)”
– https://www.quora.com/What-were-some-of-the-achievements-of-the-Akkadian-Empire-Which-have-lasted-in-modern-times

Babylonian era

Let’s look at this same area. in its larger geographical context:

Very similar to the Akkadians. 1792-1749 BCE.
King Hammurabi of Babylon is a major figure.
• Akkadian Empire lasted about 200 years
• Amorites invaded Sumer about 2000 B.C., chose Babylon as capital
• Hammurabi—powerful Amorite king who ruled from 1792 to 1750 B.C.
– extended empire across Mesopotamia, Fertile Crescent
– appointed governors, tax collectors, judges to control lands
– watched over agriculture, trade, construction

Babylonians recognize that astronomical phenomena are periodic (e.g. the annual cycle of the Earth-Sun system)

The motion of the moon, and tides, are more examples of periodic phenomenon

Tide Lunar animation
Although they did not know the physical reasons why such patterns existed, they discovered the mathematical periodicity of both lunar and solar eclipses.


Centuries of Babylonian observations of celestial phenomena are recorded in the series of cuneiform tablets known as the Enûma Anu Enlil
Astronomical studies of the planet Venus
Writing of the “Mul Apin” clay tablets, catalogs of stars and constellations, heliacal rising dates of stars, constellations and planets

Babylonian cosmology

They developed a view of the universe in which our Earth was essentially flat, with several layers of heavens above, and several layers of underworlds below.

This diagram roughly shows their view of the universe – but note that this image is not meant to be geocentric. They didn’t imply that our world is the center of the universe; this was just what the universe was imagined to be like, locally.  The idea that our Earth is literally the center of the entire universe (geocentrism) didn’t develop until the later Greek era, circa the time of Aristotle.


“A six-level universe consisting of three heavens and three earths:
two heavens above the sky, the heaven of the stars, the earth, the underground of the Apsu, and the underworld of the dead.
The Earth was created by the god Marduk as a raft floating on fresh water (Apsu), surrounded by a vastly larger body of salt water (Tiamat).
The gods were divided into two pantheons, one occupying the heavens and the other in the underworld. ”
– History of cosmology, from Astronomy 123: Galaxies and the Expanding Universe

Assyrian empire 850 – 609 BCE

• Assyrian Empire replaced Babylonian Empire
• Located in hilly northern Mesopotamia
– built powerful horse and chariot army to protect lands
– soldiers were the only ones in the area to use iron swords, spear tips
– used battering rams, ladders, tunnels to get past city walls
• Assyrians were cruel to defeated peoples
• Enemies who surrendered were allowed to choose a leader.
Enemies who resisted were taken captive, and killed or enslaved.
• Enemy leaders were killed, cities burned
• Captured peoples were sent into exile
• Assyrian Empire fell in 609 B.C.
– defeated by combined forces of the Medes and Chaldeans
– victors burned the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh


Astronomers of their day discovered a repeating 18-year Saros cycle of lunar eclipses


(data for this GIF is from http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsaros/SEsaros101.html)

Chaldean Empire/Neo-Babylonian empire 625 – 539 BCE

• Chaldeans ruled much of former Assyrian Empire
– sometimes called New Babylonians because Babylon was capital
• Chaldean empire peaked from 605 to 562 B.C. under Nebuchadnezzar II
– took Mediterranean trading cities, drove Egyptians out of Syria
• Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem when the Hebrews rebelled in 598 B.C.
– destroyed the Jewish people’s Temple in Jerusalem, and held many captive in Babylon for about 50 years. (Many Jews returned to their homeland under Cyrus the Great.)
At the height of their wealth and power, the Chaldeans:
• Nebuchadnezzar built Babylonʼs Ishtar Gate, Tower of Babel ziggurat
• Built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of Seven Wonders of the World
– an artificial mountain covered with trees, plants
The Empire Fades
• Weak rulers followed Nebuchadnezzar II
• Internal conflicts over religion divided Chaldean people
– made it easy for Cyrus The Great, King of Persia to conquer land


(to be added)

Post-Chaldean Babylonians

Jesse Emspak, in the Smithsonian, “Babylonians Were Using Geometry Centuries Earlier Than Thought” 1/28/16

As one of the brightest objects in the night sky, the planet Jupiter has been a source of fascination since the dawn of astronomy. Now a cuneiform tablet dating to between 350 and 50 B.C. shows that Babylonians not only tracked Jupiter, they were taking the first steps from geometry toward calculus to figure out the distance it moved across the sky.

Obliquity of the Nine Planets

Obliquity of the Nine Planets http://solarviews.com/eng/solarsys.htm

Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University in Berlin found the tablet while combing through the collections at the British Museum. The written record gives instructions for estimating the area under a curve by finding the area of trapezoids drawn underneath. Using those calculations, the tablet shows how to find the distance Jupiter has traveled in a given interval of time.



The distance travelled by Jupiter after 60 days, 10º45′,
computed as the area of the trapezoid whose top left corner is Jupiter’s velocity over the course of the first day, in distance per day, and its top right corner is Jupiter’s velocity on the 60th day.
In a second calculation, the trapezoid is divided into two smaller ones,
with equal area to find the time in which Jupiter covers half this distance.

Photo credit: Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver

Until now, this kind of use of trapezoids wasn’t known to exist before the 14th century.

“What they are doing is applying it to astronomy in a totally new way,” Ossendrijver says. “The trapezoid figure is not in real space and doesn’t describe a field or a garden, it describes an object in mathematical space—velocity against time.”

Scholars already knew that Babylonians could find the area of a trapezoid, and that they were quite familiar with the motions of planets and the moon. Previous records show that they used basic arithmetic—addition, subtraction, multiplication and division—to track these celestial bodies.

By 400 B.C. Babylonian astronomers had worked out a coordinate system using the ecliptic, the region of the sky the sun and planets move through, Ossendrijver says. They even invented the use of degrees as 360 fractions of a circle based on their sexagesimal, or base 60, counting system. What wasn’t clear was whether the Babylonians had a concept of objects in abstract mathematical space.

The trapezoid method involves learning the rate at which Jupiter moves and then plotting the planet’s speed against a set number of days on an x-y graph. The result should be a curve on the graph. Figuring out the area of trapezoids under this curve gives a reasonable approximation of how many degrees the planet has moved in a given period.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ancient-babylonians-were-using-geometry-centuries-earlier-thought-180957965/#mZ1dTRBAhrGx6wA6.99
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Babylonians Were Using Geometry Centuries Earlier Than Thought, Smithsonian Magazine

External references

Babylonian Astronomy, Wikipedia article


Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Understandings about the Nature of Science:  Science knowledge has a history that includes the refinement of, and changes to, theories, ideas, and beliefs over time.

Science Is a Human Endeavor:  Scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor,
imagination, and creativity. Individuals and teams from many nations and cultures have contributed to science and to advances in engineering.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Mesopotamia: Site of several ancient river civilizations circa 3500–1200 BCE
7.10 Describe the important achievements of Mesopotamian civilization.

Next Generation Science Standards

HS-ESS1 Earth’s Place in the Universe
Construct an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (HS-ESS1-2)
Apply scientific reasoning to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion. (HS-ESS1-6)

Engaging in Argument from Evidence: Use appropriate and sufficient evidence and scientific reasoning to defend and critique claims and explanations about the natural and designed world(s). Arguments may also come from current scientific or historical episodes in science.

Connections to Nature of Science:
Science Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena.
A scientific theory is a substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment, and the science community validates each theory before it is accepted. If new evidence is discovered that the theory does not accommodate, then the theory is generally modified in light of this new evidence. (HS-ESS1-2),(HS-ESS1-6)


Next Gen Science Standards




Engineering is the use of physics to design buildings, vehicles, or infrastructure.  We’ll examine real world engineering projects, and see how these techniques may be extended to proposed mega-engineering projects.


  • Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.
  • Ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.
  • Evaluate a question to determine if it is testable and relevant.
  • Ask and/or evaluate questions that challenge the premise(s) of an argument, the interpretation of a data set, or the suitability of the design

Science and engineering practices: NSTA National Science Teacher Association

Next Generation Science Standards Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices


Using forces

Introduction: When engineers design a building, they have to consider all of the forces on every element in the structure. Doesn’t matter if they are designing a building, airplane, overpass or tunnel – it all comes down to using Newton’s laws of physics & forces. In this activity, we’ll use an app to study the effect of changing: Forces, Loads, Materials and Shapes, on a structure.


  1. Forces: Forces act on big structures in many ways. Click on one of the actions to explore the forces at work and to see real-life examples. Squeezing, stretching. bending, sliding, twisting
  2. Loads: Forces that act on structures are called loads. All structures must withstand loads or they’ll fall apart. In order to build a structure, you need to know what kinds of external forces will affect it. Weight of structure, weight of objects (live load), soft soil, temperature, earthquakes, wind, vibration
  3. Materials: What you build a structure out of is just as important as how you build it: Different materials have vastly different properties. Click on a material to find out more about it, and put it to the test. Wood, plastic, aluminum, brick, concrete, reinforced concrete, cast iron, steel
  4. Shapes: The shape of a support affects its ability to resist loads.The shape comparisons here depend upon the following conditions: each shape is of equivalent thickness, the joints are hinged, and the live load is applied downward to the structure at a single point at its top and center.

App: “Building Big: Forces Lab” PBS

Building Big PBS app



In the late 19th century, as America’s teeming cities grew increasingly congested, the time had come to replace the nostalgic horse-drawn trolleys with a faster, cleaner, safer, and more efficient form of transportation. Ultimately, it was Boston — a city of so many firsts — that overcame a litany of engineering challenges, the greed-driven interests of businessmen, and the great fears of its citizenry to construct America’s first subway. Based in part on Doug Most’s acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name, The Race Underground tells the dramatic story of an invention that changed the lives of millions.

Introduction: The Race Underground

Main page: The Race Underground

Slide Show: The Race underground Boston in the early 1900’s

Video: The Race Underground, Chapter 1: Building Boston’s Subways



Engineering An Empire
Engineering an Empire

Our related article on Extreme Engineering.

External resources

Walkinator app, by Bryce Summer. Biomechanical evolution.

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework
HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion is a mathematical model describing change in motion (the acceleration) of objects when acted on by a net force.

HS-PS2-10(MA). Use free-body force diagrams, algebraic expressions, and Newton’s laws of motion to predict changes to velocity and acceleration for an object moving in one dimension in various situations

2016 High School Technology/Engineering

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify a design problem that can be improved. Determine necessary qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions, including any requirements set by society.

HS-ETS1-2. Break a complex real-world problem into smaller, more manageable problems that each can be solved using scientific and engineering principles.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, aesthetics, and maintenance, as well as social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-ETS1-4. Use a computer simulation to model the impact of a proposed solution to a complex real-world problem that has numerous criteria and constraints on the interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

HS-ETS1-5(MA). Plan a prototype or design solution using orthographic projections and isometric drawings, using proper scales and proportions.

HS-ETS1-6(MA). Document and present solutions that include specifications, performance results, successes and remaining issues, and limitations.