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Science: Of Islam and Inventions

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  • Zafar Khan
    Of Islam and Inventions By ANAHAD O’CONNOR Published: August 12, 2007 JERSEY CITY
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 2007
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      Of Islam and Inventions
      By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
      Published: August 12, 2007
      JERSEY CITY

      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/12sciencenj.html?ex=1188360000&en=f167ce4aa41df831&ei=5070

      THE story of aviation often begins with Leonardo da
      Vinci’s designs for flying machines, which would later
      inspire the Wright brothers and their famous sustained
      flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

      Yet centuries before Leonardo, in A.D. 875, Abbas bin
      Firnas, a Muslim inventor in Spain, cloaked himself in
      bird feathers, strapped himself to a glider made of
      wood and silk, then jumped into the air and stayed
      aloft for some time — making him the first person in
      recorded history to fly.

      This tidbit and many others like it can be gleaned
      from “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” an intriguing new
      exhibition at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey
      City that explores the vast spectrum of
      accomplishments by Muslim scientists from A.D. 700 to
      1700. It is a copy of a show that has been at the Ibn
      Battuta Mall in Dubai since last year; it may make
      other stops in the United States after it ends its run
      in Jersey City.

      Through interactive models and vivid displays and
      artifacts, the exhibition illustrates how Muslim
      scholars helped advance nine different scientific
      disciplines, including medicine, engineering and
      astronomy.

      On display are 13th-century surgical tools that
      influenced many of today’s medical instruments,
      ancient precursors of the internal combustion engine,
      and astronomical equipment that traced the movements
      of celestial bodies hundreds of years ago.

      The show, designed by MTE Studios in South Africa, is
      one of several new exhibitions that await visitors to
      the Liberty Science Center, which reopened last month
      after a two-year, $109 million transformation. The new
      center contains high-tech, hands-on exhibitions like
      one on skyscrapers and another on the Hudson River
      that replace the simpler exhibits on subjects like
      static electricity that visitors to the old center may
      remember.

      Simply put, this is science for big kids.

      With “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” a primary goal is
      to showcase the work of early Muslim scientists and
      their influence on Western society — an effort to
      offer a balanced perspective on Islam.

      “This show is basically about science and technology,”
      said Wayne LaBar, the center’s vice president for
      exhibitions and theaters. “But at the same time it is
      also a show that allows us to create an understanding
      of a different culture that in some ways is demonized
      these days.

      “Where we are today is based on a lot of different
      people and a lot of different cultures,” he added,
      “and the show offers a way of connecting our modern
      cultures.”

      The exhibition begins with a visit to a re-created
      souk, or Arab market, that includes a large and
      colorful timeline showing the dates of scientific
      achievements in the Muslim world juxtaposed with the
      dates of momentous events in other societies.

      Rather than overwhelm viewers with wall text and
      complicated descriptions — as scientific exhibitions
      sometimes do — this one engages with interactivity.

      Visitors can play with engineering models, grip pulse
      sensors to see their own heartbeats, examine a
      four-foot-tall elephant clock, and experiment with
      optical illusions.

      Another compelling element of the exhibition is its
      attempt to bring to life the personalities behind the
      brilliant inventions. Many of the displays revolve
      around individual scientists and explorers, and
      visitors can see their portraits and learn about the
      quirks and convictions that guided them.

      There is Ibn al-Jazari, the 12th-century scholar and
      engineer whose myriad inventions and mechanical
      contraptions make him seem a kindred spirit to Thomas
      Edison. There is Al-Kwharizmi, the Persian astronomer
      and mathematician whose name gave rise to the word
      “algorithm.” And, of course, there is the
      aviation-obsessed bin Firnas, who made his historic
      first flight at the age of 70 and, just before leaping
      into the air, is said to have told friends, “If all
      goes well, after soaring for a time, I should be able
      to return safely to your side.”

      He did, and “Islamic Science Rediscovered” celebrates
      his achievement.

      The Liberty Science Center is at 251 Phillip Street in
      Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Open daily this
      summer, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Starting in September: closed
      Mondays; open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5
      p.m., and weekends and holidays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
      Information: (201) 200-1000 or lsc.org.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      More on this at:
      http://www.islamawareness.net/Science/
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