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Chinese Inventions - Compass & Gunpowder



Chinese Inventions - Compass & Gunpowder
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 8 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   7.95

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    aligned, rockets, envoy, saltpeter, diplomatic, dynasty, sulfur, concoction, firework, spiritual, compound, shortly, nuclear, discovery, charcoal, prolong
     content words:    Leo Szilard, Though Leo Szilard, World War II, Warring States Period, Northern Song, Zheng He, His Treasure Fleet, Christopher Columbus, When Europeans


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Chinese Inventions - Compass & Gunpowder
By Vickie Chao
  

1     Have you ever had an idea that didn't quite turn out the way you intended? That "surprise" element is something inventors are very familiar with. A case in point is Leo Szilard (1898 - 1964), who patented the idea of a nuclear chain reaction in 1934. Though Leo Szilard came up with the idea and helped the U.S. government create the first atomic bomb, he was adamantly against using it on moral grounds. Despite his repeated pleas, the U.S. government dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 and ended World War II.
 
2     Leo Szilard was certainly neither the first nor the last inventor whose product was used in a way different from its initial design. Looking back in history, there are two Chinese inventions that fit the bill. They are the compass and gunpowder.
 
3     The earliest-known compass dates from China during the Warring States Period (475 B.C. - 221 B.C.) At the time, people used an instrument called "sinan" for fortune telling and other spiritual applications. A sinan consisted of two components. The first, top part was a spoon made of loadstone. The second, bottom part was a square bronze plate with markings pointing to twenty-four different directions. Because loadstone aligned with the Earth's natural magnetic field, the spoon's handle would always point to south when placed on the plate. The ancient Chinese quickly realized the potential application of this direction-finding device. So they began to work on improving its stability. The compass of later days had a magnetized needle on a round plate. Its first recorded use as a navigation tool on ships was during the Northern Song dynasty (960 A.D. - 1127 A.D.)

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