Abu Sahl Waijan ibn Rustam alQuhi
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Tabaristan (now Mazanderan), Persia (now Iran)
Biography
There are two spellings of alQuhi's name in English which seem to appear about equally often, namely alQuhi and alKuhi.We can deduce from alQuhi's name that he came from the village of Quh in Tabaristan. He was brought up during the period that a new dynasty was being established which would rule over Iran. The Buyid Islamic dynasty ruled in western Iran and Iraq from 945 to 1055 in the period between the Arab and Turkish conquests. The period began in 945 when Ahmad Buyeh occupied the 'Abbasid capital of Baghdad. The high point of the Buyid dynasty was during the reign of 'Adud adDawlah from 949 to 983. He ruled from Baghdad over all southern Iran and most of what is now Iraq. A great patron of science and the arts, 'Adud adDawlah supported a number of mathematicians at his court in Baghdad, including alQuhi, Abu'lWafa and alSijzi.
In 969 'Adud adDawlah ordered that observations be made of the winter and summer solstices in Shiraz. These observations of the winter and summer solstices were made by alQuhi, alSijzi and other scientists in Shiraz during 969/970.
Sharaf adDawlah was 'Adud adDawlah's son and he became Caliph in 983. He continued to support mathematics and astronomy so alQuhi remained at the court in Baghdad working for the new Caliph. Sharaf adDawlah required alQuhi to make observations of the seven planets and in order to do this alQuhi had an observatory built in the garden of the palace in Baghdad. The instruments in the observatory were built to alQuhi's own design and installed once the building was complete. AlQuhi was made director of the observatory and it was officially opened in June 988.
A number of scientists were present at the opening. One in particular, the famous mathematician and astronomer Abu'lWafa, is worthy of mention. He was also employed at the court of Sharaf adDawlah. Another who was present at the opening was Abu Ishaq alSabi. AlSabi was a high ranking official in Baghdad who was interested in mathematics. We mention later in this article correspondence between alQuhi and alSabi. Some accurate observations were made but the observatory ceased work in 989 on the death of Sharaf adDawlah. The Buyid dynasty was by this stage beginning to lose control of the empire. The economy was on a downward path, and rebellions in the army made the ruler's life difficult. Fine cultural activities such as an observatory took a lower priority.
Our description of alQuhi's life has highlighted his work in astronomy. However, it is in mathematics that he is more famous, being the leading figure in a revival and continuation of Greek higher geometry in the Islamic world. The geometric problems that alQuhi studied usually led to quadratic or cubic equations. Nasir alDin alTusi described one of the problems considered by alQuhi writing (see for example [1]):
To construct a sphere segment equal in volume to a given sphere segment and equal in area to a second sphere segment  a problem similar to but more difficult than related problems solved by Archimedes  AlQuhi constructed the two unknown lengths by intersecting an equilateral hyperbola with a parabola and rigorously discussed the conditions under which the problem is soluble.AlQuhi's solution to the problem is given in [5]. It is a classical style of solution using results from Euclid's Elements, Apollonius's Conics and Archimedes' On the sphere and cylinder. If a solution exists, alQuhi showed that it will have coordinates which lie on a particular rectangular hyperbola that he has constructed. Of course, alQuhi does not express the mathematics in these modern terms but rather in the usual classical geometry of ancient Greek mathematics. Next alQuhi introduces the "cone of the surface" which, after many deductions, leads to showing that the solution has coordinates lying on a parabola. The problem is then beautifully solved as the intersection of the two curves.
In another treatise On the construction of an equilateral pentagon in a known square alQuhi solves the problem given in the title again using the intersection of two conic sections, this time two hyperbolas. Although it is impossible to inscribe a regular pentagon in a square, an equilateral pentagon can be inscribed in two ways. One, which requires the solution of a quadratic equation, had been found by Abu Kamil in the ninth century. The other, which requires the solution of a quartic equation, is the one presented by alQuhi. Details of this treatise are given in [6] (see the corrections and additions of [7]), and [8].
AlQuhi also described a conic compass, a compass with one leg of variable length, for drawing conic sections in the treatise On the perfect compass [1]:
... he first described the method of constructing straight lines, circles, and conic sections with this compass, and then treated the theory. He concluded that one could now easily construct astrolabes, sundials and similar instruments.Indeed alQuhi did consider the problem of constructing astrolabes in On the construction of the astrolabe. The astrolabe was an instrument used to observe altitudes, and it provided a mechanical means to transform celestial coordinates between an equatorial system and one based on the horizon. This treatise is in two Books, the first being divided into four chapters, the second book into seven chapters.
There are a number of difficult mapping problems solved by alQuhi in this work. In particular, using a method resembling descriptive geometry, he maps circles on the sphere into the equatorial plane. After manipulation, they are mapped back again onto the sphere in a remarkable piece of visualisation. Despite the appearance of the work being of practical use in constructing an astrolabe, it would appear that alQuhi was more interested in the mathematics for its own sake than he was in giving a practical manual.
Finally we should mention the correspondence between alQuhi and alSabi which we mentioned above. It is known that there were at least six letters exchanged but only details of four survive. These are given in both Arabic and English in [3]. Topics covered are quite varied, ranging from a discussion of what "known" means to solutions of specific problems such as the following Suppose we are given a circle and two intersecting straight lines $l$ and $m$. Suppose the tangent to the circle at a point $T$ meets $l$ at $L$ and $m$ at $M$. How can one choose $T$ so that $TL : TM$ is equal to a given ratio? Perhaps the most interesting parts of the correspondence are six theorems given by alQuhi concerning the centres of gravity of various figures. Five of the six results are correct but the sixth is false. It states that the centre of gravity of a semicircle divides the radius in the ratio 3 : 7. From this false result alQuhi deduces the equally false result that $\pi = \large\frac{28}{9}\normalsize$. Even the best mathematicians can make mistakes!
References (show)

Y DoldSamplonius, Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York 19701990).
See THIS LINK.  P Abgrall, Les cercles tangents d'alQuhi, Arabic Sci. Philos. 5 (2) (1995), 140141, 143, 263295.
 J L Berggren, The correspondence of Abu Sahl alKuhi and Abu Ishaq alSabi : a translation with commentaries (Arabic with English translation), J. Hist. Arabic Sci. 7 (12) (1983), 39124.
 J L Berggren, Abu Sahl alKuhi's treatise on the construction of the astrolabe with proof (Arabic), Physis Riv. Internaz. Storia Sci. (N.S.) 31 (1) (1994), 141252.
 J L Berggren, alKuhi's 'Filling a lacuna in Book II of Archimedes' in the version of Nasir alDin alTusi, Centaurus 38 (23) (1996), 140207.
 J P Hogendijk, alKuhi's construction of an equilateral pentagon in a given square, Z. Gesch. Arab.Islam. Wiss. 1 (1984), 100144.
 J P Hogendijk, Corrections and supplements : 'alKuhi's construction of an equilateral pentagon in a given square', Z. Gesch. Arab.Islam. Wiss. 4 (1987/88), 267.
 B A Rozenfel'd and R S Safarov, The treatise of the prominent sheikh Abu Sahl Waijan ibn Rustam alKuhi on the construction of an equilateral pentagon in a known square (Russian), Istor.Mat. Issled. No. 30 (1986), 343351.
 R Rashed, AlQuhi vs. Aristotle : on motion, Arabic Sci. Philos. 9 (1) (1999), 3; 5; 724.
 J Sesiano, Note sur trois théorèmes de mécanique d'alQuhi et leur conséquence, Centaurus 22 (4) (1978/79), 281297.
 A P Yushkevich, Geschichte der Mathematik im Mittelalter (Basel, 1964), 258259; 292.
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Written by
J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 1999
Last Update November 1999