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Medieval version of the internet search engine created in Rochester

Local News

While many spend the day scrolling through social media, one invention back in the 16th century made scrolling possible. The book wheel was shown in a 1588 book written by the Italian military inventor Augostino Romelli. The drawing in that book inspired some professors and students. 

“When we first learned about the project,” said Ian Kurtz, a recent mechanical engineering graduate of RIT, “We had no idea what a reading wheel was.” 

Kurtz, as well as fellow students at the RIT and the U of R, do not know if he actually made it so they took it upon themselves. “We wanted to see if we can make that a reality,” said Kurtz. 

One full year of work using modern-day electronics, a lot of design, woodwork, and seventeen gears later, they did it. 

The wheel is made of wood and has room for eight books. One of the biggest challenges was the weather. As the room gets humid the wood expands and shrinks. This makes the gears difficult to operate. 

Regardless, the piece moves along with a little push or tug and is considered the modern day google tab; fit for the 1600s. “It really brings the past to life in a way that is difficult for us to imagine,” said Anna Siebach-Larsen, University of Rochester Director of the Rossel Hope Robbins Library. 

Siebach-Larsen says this is a rare connection between History and the STEM field.  “We’ve seen students in here who would have never even thought to come in here.” She also says that it is a great collaboration between the two universities.  

There are two wheels located in Rochester, one at both schools. As of now, these are the only two active book wheels in existence. “I love it here. It’s never leaving. It’s also very heavy so that’s probably why it’s never leaving!” 

Since the book wheel was installed in late January, the group has been contacted by schools and universities across the United States for the blueprint on their design. 

Others included in the project:   

Greg Heyworth, English professor 

Steven Galbraith, RIT curator of RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection 

Reese Salen, Design Lead 

Matt Nygren, Communication Lead 

Maher Abdelkawi, Facilitator/Purchaser 

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