When I heard of Archimedes’ Death Ray, the name alone was enough to get me interested. Who could resist some thing called a Death Ray?? After some investigation, I learned that this story dates back to the Second Punic War. According to Greek and Roman historians, when, in 212 BC,
At first, I agreed with many scholars that the whole thing sounded a bit far-fetched. The idea of being able to burn up the Roman fleet like ants under a magnifying glass simply with polished shields seemed unbelievable. However, some experiments have been done that bring my initial doubt into question. An engineering class at MIT tested the ability of reflective metal shields to light wooden ships on fire. After a few tests, the engineers declared that it is, in fact, possible! Granted, the results were not perfect. The MIT students, for example, found that direct sunlight was necessary as the shields were highly responsive to even minimal cloud coverage. Nevertheless, they showed that it was indeed possible to ignite wood with nothing more than the sun and some highly reflective metal shields. The same group collaborated with the team from Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters to perform another test. They were unable to produce the flash ignition that the initial MIT team created, although there was some burning, eventually causing a 10 in. hole in the boat.
Surely, these test results cannot be taken to mean that the story of Archimedes is true. However, they have convinced me that the Death Ray is not out of the realm of possibility.