söndag 5 augusti 2007

The Wreck of the Vasa, Calculus and Naval Architecture

King Gustav Adolph's flagship, the Vasa, sank in 1628 when a squall blew it over in Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage. It is now on display in a specially built museum. This incident was similar to that which sank the Mary Rose in Portsmouth Harbour in 1533.

The guide explained that the ship was too narrow for the amount of sail which it carried and that there was insufficient knowledge of ship design at the time to prevent this kind of thing, other than rule-of-thumb. There was a commission of inquiry but nobody could be blamed.

Which has set me thinking. What had happened to the Vasa was widely known. It is also likely that shipbuilders understood that a narrow ship was a faster ship. But optimum design would require the application of calculus, which was not invented until around 1675 by Newton and Leibnitz, apparently simultaneously and independently. And, as far as I know, it was to be another century before the mathematical principles were applied to practical shipbuilding.

As I understand it, Newton was concerned about the motions of the planets. Of Leibnitz I know little. But Newton was a member of the Royal Society, which was founded just after the Restoration in 1660. To what extent, I wonder, was the Vasa disaster the driving force behind the interest in science by monarchs such as Charles II?

Can anyone shed some light on this?

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