(1031 – 1095)

Shen Kuo was incisive, versatile, and profoundly prolific. Like all polymaths, he embraced a wide range of interests. From mathematics to astronomy, and from biology to geology, he delved into them all. Despite serving full-time as a bureaucrat in various capacities, he found enough time to research and publish. Evidence showed that he expanded his quests into: pharmacology, optics, magnetism, hydraulics and agriculture. One of his treatises is the earliest known publication which describe a magnetic compass: improving on the south-pointing chariot which Ma Jun and Zu Chongzhi described. Other treatises touched non-scientific topics like poetry, music, philosophy and governance. Kuo’s works on geometry were detailed and outstanding. His applications of geometry to the problems of astronomy helped improve trigonometry. For instance, Guo Shoujing used Kuo’s works on the lengths of arcs of circles as the basis for revamping spherical trigonometry nearly two centuries after Kuo’s death. Regarding pharmacology, Kuo detailed both the preparations and the administrations of various drugs: with respective information on their contraindications. He also made advances in the geological evaluations of landscapes: paying attention to rock-types and fossilized sediments. His documentations on how to use predatory arthropods as pest-controllers consolidate his biological and agricultural insights. An outstanding polymath who spared no academic field which existed during his era, his works played key roles in advancing Asian arts and sciences. In recognition, several things (including the 2027 Shen Guo asteroid) were named after him. But it is unfortunate that most of his publications (including maps) did not survive.


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