Beyond the Compass: On the So-Called Mechanical Construction of the Conic Sections

Histoire des mathématiques

visioconférence - M3
Eisso Atzema
Department of Mathematics, University of Maine
Mardi, 25 Mai, 2010 - 10:30 - 11:30

As is well known, there was little concern in Apollonius' Conics about the actual "mechanical" construction of the conic sections. In fact, it is not entirely clear whether there ever was an interest in Classical Antiquity in any tool that would draw a given conic section in the same way one can draw a circle with the help of a compass. There certainly was an interest in such a tool among Muslim mathematicians. In Renaissance Europe, a number of mathematicians suggested various mechanical ways to construct the conic sections as well---where it is to be noted that in this context "mechanical" does not always have the same connotation as it has today. In this talk I will outline the most important proposals for the mechanical construction of the conic sections and sketch their historical context. I will discuss one particular construction in more detail and pursue its history from the early 17th century to the mid-20th century.