The Screw Pump: An Archimedes’ Invention Still in Use Today

Archimedes of Syracuse was an ancient Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, invetor, and astronomer. He is typically regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. He is most known for his explanation of the principle of the lever and for the first theoretical calculation of the value of pi (π).

One of the most valuable inventions credited with designing is the Archimedes Screw Pump which is a device used to transport water from a low area to a higher elevation. The design consists of a screw inside a hollow pipe and is turned by a windmill or by manual labor. As the bottom end of the tube turns, it scoops up a volume of water which will slide up in the spiral tube as the shaft is turned, until it finally pours out from the top of the tube.

The Archimedes screw is basically a positive-displacement pump. One end of the pump is placed in a low-lying liquid source and then tilted up into a discharge tank or other suitable location. To move the liquid upward, the screw would be rotated. As the screw moves, it scoops up a small amount of water into the first pocket. On the next turn of the screw, the first pocket of water moves to the second pocket, and a new scoop of water enters the first pocket. This motion continues until finally the first scoop of water comes out at the other end.

The screw was mostly used for draining water out of mines or other areas of low lying water and to transport water from low-lying areas up to irrigation ditches. The design is so effective that it is still being used in many modern-day applications. The design is used to lift wastewater in treatment plants, to lift granulated solids such as coal and grain, to irrigate agricultural fields without electrical pumps, and even to lift water at the Shipwreck Rapids water ride at Sea World in San Diego, California.

More recently, the Archimedes’ Screws are being used in England to generate electricity, in addition to pumping water when needed. Competitors for the 2012 London Olympic Games are training on a canoe course in which the pumps are now being used as both pumps and generators on an energy neutral course.

This invention is an example of a sustainable machine that has proven its worth over the test of time. It uses only minimal amounts of energy from a renewable source and can continually operate, and now can be modified to produce electricity. -KATHY FAIRCHILD

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