Timeline of science and engineering in the Islamic world

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This timeline of science and engineering in the Islamic world covers the time period from the eighth century AD to the introduction of European science to the Islamic world in the nineteenth century. All year dates are given according to the Gregorian calendar except where noted.

Eighth century[edit]

  • 770–840 – Mathematics: Khwarizmi Developed the "calculus of resolution and juxtaposition" (hisab al-jabr w'al-muqabala), more briefly referred to as al-jabr, or algebra.

Ninth century[edit]

  • 803 – Chemistry, one falsely claimed Islamic invention is glass: attibuted to Abu-Moussa Jabir ibn Hayyan (Latinized name, Geber,). However The history of glassmaking can be traced back to 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia. Archaeological evidence suggests that the first true glass was made in coastal north Syria, Mesopotamia or Ancient Egypt.[1] The earliest known glass objects, of the mid third millennium BCE, were beads, perhaps initially created as accidental by-products of metal-working (slags) or during the production of faience, a pre-glass vitreous material made by a process similar to glazing.[n 1] Glass remained a luxury material, and the disasters that overtook Late Bronze Age civilizations seem to have brought glass-making to a halt. Another false claim was that he was First chemist known to produce sulfuric acid, as well as many other chemicals and instruments. Although sulfuric acid is now one of the most widely used chemicals, it was probably little known before the sixteenth century. It was prepared by Johann Van Helmont (c. 1600) by destructive distillation of green vitriol (ferrous sulfate) and by burning sulfur. The first major industrial demand for sulfuric acid was the Leblanc process for making sodium carbonate (developed c. 1790). Sulfuric acid was produced at Nordhausen from green vitriol but was expensive. A process for its synthesis by burning sulfur with saltpeter (potassium nitrate) was first used by Johann Glauber in the seventeenth century and developed commercially by Joshua Ward in England c. 1740. It was soon superseded by the lead chamber process, invented by John Roebuck in 1746 and since improved by many others. The contact process was originally developed c. 1830 by Peregrine Phillips in England; it was little used until a need for concentrated acid arose, particularly for the manufacture of synthetic organic dyes.
  • He did however write on adding color to glass by adding small quantities of metallic oxides to the glass, such as manganese dioxide. This was not an advance in glass industry because the Chinese and Japanese had been doing this for several hundred years previously. His works include The Elaboration of the Grand Elixir; The Chest of Wisdom in which he writes on nitric acid; Kitab al-istitmam (translated to Latin later as Summa Perfectionis); and others.
  • * While many falsely claim that Islamic mathematicians invent and developed algebra, In the ninth century, the Persian mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī wrote several important books on the Hindu-Arabic numerals and on methods for solving equations. His book On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals, written about 825, along with the work of Al-Kindi, were instrumental in spreading Indian mathematics and Indian numerals to the West. The word algorithm is derived from the Latinization of his name, Algoritmi, and the word algebra from the title of one of his works, Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī hīsāb al-ğabr wa’l-muqābala (The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing).
  • Mid-ninth century chemistry: Yet another falsely claimed Islamic invention is distillation based on Al-Kindi writes on the distillation of wine as that of rose water and gives 107 recipes for perfumes, in his book Kitab Kimia al-`otoor wa al-tas`eedat (book of the chemistry of perfumes and distillations.)The truth is that the first evidence of distillation comes from Greek alchemists working in Alexandria in the first century AD.[2] Distilled water has been known since at least c. 200, when Alexander of Aphrodisias described the process.[3] Distillation in China could have begun during the Eastern Han Dynasty (first and second centuries), but archaeological evidence indicates that actual distillation of beverages began in the Jin and Southern Song dynasties.[4] A still was found in an archaeological site in Qinglong, Hebei province dating to the twelfth century. Distilled beverages were more common during the Yuan dynasty.[4] Arabs learned the process from the Alexandrians and used it extensively in their chemical experiments.[1]
  • 864–930 Chemistry, medicine: Al-Razi Al-Razi wrote on Naft (naphta or petroleum) and its distillates in his book "Kitab sirr al-asrar" (book of the secret of secrets.) The word naphtha came from Latin and Greek where it derived from Persian.[2] In Ancient Greek, it was used to refer to any sort of petroleum or pitch. It appears in Arabic as "nafţ" (نَفْط) ("petroleum"), and in Hebrew as "neft" (נֵפְט). Persians have used and distilled petroleum for tar and fuel from ancient times, as attested in local Greek and Roman histories of the region. The second book of the Maccabees in the Septuagint, part of the Old Testament canon in the major Christian denominations: Latin and Greek Catholic, and Greek and Russian Orthodox, uses the word "naphtha" to refer to a miraculously flammable liquid. This account says that Nehemiah and the levitical priests associated with him called the liquid "nephthar", meaning "purification", but "most people" call it naphtha (or Nephi). When choosing a site to build Baghdad's hospital, Al-Razi hung pieces of fresh meat in different parts of the city. The location where the meat took the longest to rot was the one he chose for building the hospital. Advocated that patients not be told their real condition so that fear or despair do not affect the healing process. Wrote on alkali, caustic soda, soap and glycerine. Gave descriptions of equipment processes and methods in his book Kitab al-Asrar (book of secrets) in 925.
  • 888 – ? 'Abbas Ibn Firnas. Planetarium, copied the ancient Chinese methods for the production of artificial crystals. According to one account written seven centuries after his death, Ibn Firnas was injured during an elevated winged trial flight.Of course this is several hundreds years after successful winged flight had been experienced by the Chinese who had exceeded 2 km in flight.

Tenth century[edit]

  • Mirroring the systems which had been in use in China for several centuries[2] by this century, three systems of counting are used in the Arab world. Finger-reckoning arithmetic, with numerals written entirely in words, used by the business community; the sexagesimal system, a remnant originating with the Babylonians, with numerals denoted by letters of the arabic alphabet and used by Arab mathematicians in astronomical work; and the Indian numeral system, which was used with various sets of symbols. Its arithmetic at first required the use of a dust board (a sort of handheld blackboard) because "the methods required moving the numbers around in the calculation and rubbing some out as the calculation proceeded." Of course Mathematics in China emerged independently by the eleventh century BC. The Chinese independently developed very large and negative numbers, decimals, a place value decimal system, a binary system, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Much of this work migrated westwards over the centuries and was eventually copied by the Arabs.
  • 920 Mathematics: al-Uqlidisi. Modified arithmetic methods for the Indian numeral system to make it possible for pen and paper use, as the Chinese had 400 years before. Hitherto, doing calculations with the Indian numerals necessitated the use of a dust board as noted earlier. This was despite the use of the abacus for many centuries in India, China and Japan to meet the same requirement.
  • 940 Mathematics: Born Abu'l-Wafa al-Buzjani. Wrote several treatises using the finger-counting system of arithmetic, and was also an expert on the Indian numerals system. About the Indian system he wrote: "[it] did not find application in business circles and among the population of the Eastern Caliphate for a long time." [3] Using the Indian numeral system, abu'l Wafa was able to extract roots.
  • 980 Mathematics: al-Baghdadi Studied a slight variant of Thabit ibn Qurra's theorem on amicable numbers.[3] Al-Baghdadi also wrote about and compared the three systems of counting and arithmetic used in the region during this period.

Eleventh century[edit]

  • 1044 or 1048–1123 Mathematics: Omar Al-Khayyam. Persian mathematician and poet. "Gave a complete classification of cubic equations with geometric solutions found by means of intersecting conic sections.".[3] Extracted roots using the decimal system (the Indian numeral system).

Twelfth century[edit]

  • 1100–1166 Cartography: Muhammad al-Idrissi, aka Idris al-Saqalli aka al-sharif al-idrissi of Andalusia and Sicily. Known for having drawn some of the most advanced ancient world maps.
  • 1130 Mathematics:al-Samawal. An important member of al-Karaji's school of algebra. Gave this definition of algebra: "[it is concerned] with operating on unknowns using all the arithmetical tools, in the same way as the arithmetician operates on the known." [3]
  • 1135 Mathematics: Sharafeddin Tusi. Follows al-Khayyam's application of algebra of geometry, rather than follow the general development that came through al-Karaji's school of algebra. Wrote a treatise on cubic equations which [4][page needed] describes thus: "[the treatise] represents an essential contribution to another algebra which aimed to study curves by means of equations, thus inaugurating the beginning of algebraic geometry." (quoted in [3] ).

Thirteenth century[edit]

  • Medicine; Scientific method: Ibn Al-Nafis (1213-1288) Damascene physician and anatomist. Discovered the lesser circulatory system (the cycle involving the ventricles of the heart and the lungs), and described the mechanism of breathing and its relation to the blood and how it nourishes on air in the lungs. Followed a "constructivist" path of the smaller circulatory system: "blood is purified in the lungs for the continuance of life and providing the body with the ability to work". During his time, the common view was that blood originates in the liver then travels to the right ventricle, then on to the organs of the body; another contemporary view was that blood is filtered through the diaphragm where it mixes with the air coming from the lungs. Ibn al-Nafis discredited all these views including ones by Galen and Avicenna (ibn Sina). At least an illustration of his manuscript is still extant. William Harvey explained the circulatory system without reference to ibn al-Nafis in 1628. Ibn al-Nafis extolled the study of comparative anatomy in his "Explaining the dissection of [Avicenna's] Al-Qanoon" which includes a prefaces, and citations of sources. Emphasized the rigours of verification by measurement, observation and experiment. Subjected conventional wisdom of his time to a critical review and verified it with experiment and observation, discarding errors.
  • Chemistry: Al-Jawbari describes the preparation of rose water in the work "Book of Selected Disclosure of Secrets" (Kitab kashf al-Asrar).
  • Chemistry; materials; glassmaking: Arabic manuscript on the manufacture of false gemstones and diamonds. Also describes spirits of alum, spirits of saltpetre and spirits of salts (hydrochloric acid).

Fourteenth century[edit]

  • 1380- Mathematics: al-Kashi. According to,[3] "contributed to the development of decimal fractions not only for approximating algebraic numbers, but also for real numbers such as pi. His contribution to decimal fractions is so major that for many years he was considered as their inventor. Although not the first to do so, al-Kashi gave an algorithm for calculating nth roots which is a special case of the methods given many centuries later by Ruffini and Horner."

Fifteenth century[edit]

  • Mathematics: Ibn al-Banna and al-Qalasadi used symbols for mathematics "and, although we do not know exactly when their use began, we know that symbols were used at least a century before this." [3]
  • Astronomy and mathematics: Ibn Masoud (Ghayyathuddin Jamshid ibn Mohamed ibn mas`oud, d. 1424 or 1436.) Wrote on the decimal system. Computed and observed the solar eclipses of 809AH, 810AH and 811AH, after being invited by Ulugh Beg, based in Samarqand to pursue his study of mathematics, astronomy and physics. His works include "The Key of arithmetics"; "Discoveries in mathematics"; "The Decimal point"; "the benefits of the zero". The contents of the Benefits of the Zero are an introduction followed by five essays: On whole number arithmetic; On fractional arithmetic; on astrology; on areas; on finding the unknowns [unknown variables]. He also wrote a "Thesis on the sine and the chord"; "thesis on the circumference" in which he found the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle to sixteen decimal places; "The garden of gardens" or "promenade of the gardens" describing an instrument he devised and used at the Samarqand observatory to compile an ephemeris, and for computing solar and lunar eclipses; The ephemeris "Zayj Al-Khaqani" which also includes mathematical tables and corrections of the ephemeresis by Al-Tusi; "Thesis on finding the first degree sine".

Sixteenth century[edit]

  • Aviation: In 1648 John Wilkins cites Busbecq, the Austrian ambassador to Istanbul 1554-1562, as recording that "a Turk in Istanbul" attempted to fly.[6]

Seventeenth century[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillation
  2. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_mathematics
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Arabic Mathematics at the University of St-Andrews, Scotland
  4. ^ R Rashed (1994). The development of Arabic mathematics : between arithmetic and algebra. London. 
  5. ^ a b http://amicable.homepage.dk/apstat.htm#discoverer
  6. ^ Wilkins, John. Mathematicall Magick or the Wonders that may be performed by Mechanicall Geometry. In two books. Concerning Mechanicall Powers and Motions, London 1648, 204; also see a reprint of the same book in The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of John Wilkins to which is prefixed the author's life and an account of his works, 1802, vol. II, 201

External links[edit]