Home » Kuala Lumpur » REVIEW: Sultans of Science: Islamic Science Rediscovered @Petrosains, The Discovery Centre

REVIEW: Sultans of Science: Islamic Science Rediscovered @Petrosains, The Discovery Centre

Date of Visit: March 25 2013 (runs until June 15 2013)
Entry Fee: RM$20
Time taken: 1 hour

“You’ll be amazed at how many notable discoveries and inventions currently attributed to Western scientists were, in fact first made by Muslim scholars.”

Petrosains Discovery Center is a small discovery museum on the 4th floor of Suria Mall KLCC, this mall is under the famous Petronas Twin Towers. Currently on show is the ‘The Sultans of Science: Islamic Science Rediscovered’ exhibition, a global touring exhibition celebrating the contributions of Muslim scholars in science, mathematics and technology during the Golden Age of the Islamic World (700-1700 CE).

There are more than sixty exhibits providing visitors of all ages with a hands-on, interactive and state-of-the-art family-friendly experience with different zones dedicated to Engineering, Medicine, Astronomy, Mathematics, Geography and Agriculture.  The aim is to highlight the many ways in which Muslim Civilisation helped lay the foundations for the European Renaissance and has had a profound impact on the modern world.


Petrosains Discovery Centre on Level 4 of Suria Shopping Mall KLCC

The entrance to the exhibition with an Arabesque theme, complete with carpets and arched walkways sets the tone for my journey to discover the geniuses if the Islamic Golden Age. On the walls are pictures of the ancient Muslim notable figures in the fields of science and technological breakthroughs.


Entrance to the exhibition

Many a times, what you see and think of as ‘magic’ is actually science.  Al-Jazari’s ‘ Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devises’ (1206 AD), is a a manuscript describing 50 machines such as animal and humanoid automata, automatic gates and doors and also his famous clocks.

Some of the Trick Devices in the exhibition illustrate the mechanisms that are presently used in modern engineering.


The Wudhu Machine

The Wudhu Machine is a central part of the Islamic rite of cleanliness.  The contraception releases a fixed amount of water at regular intervals for washing, this is perhaps the earliest use of automated system.  Examples can be found in Muslim landscaped gardens, and the famous Al-Hambra comes to mind.


Wudhu Machine


Al-Jazari’s Perpetual Flute


Al-Jazari’s Magic Flask


Mechanism of the Magic Flask

Water told time by changes in water level, however, it was not very accurate. Early water clocks were simple devices but by the 8th century Al-Jazari’s clocks were work of engineering skill by adding automated control systems and craftsmanship.


Water Beaker

The highlight of the exhibition  is the six-meter-high replica of the robotic kinetic-powered 13th-century Elephant Clock, invented by master engineer Al-Jazari. It is the equivalent of a mdern day Grandfather Clock, big, decorative and announces time. This is an inspirational piece of mechanical genius that pioneered automation by incorporating technologies from various ancient innovations.

It was fascinating watching the clock work:  “Periodically, a metal ball drops out of a magazine at the top of the device.  Triggered by the metal ball, a bowl inside the elephant slowly sinks into a  bucket as it fills with water. As this float descends, it powers the clock’s  mechanisms and time-signals. At the end of the cycle, the bowl empties and  returns to the top to repeat the process. The clock will keep running as long as  there are still metal balls in the magazine.”  Watch the video here


Robotic Elephant Clock


Robotic Elephant Clock

When it comes to flying, Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind (link to his exhibition in Hong Kong), but mind you, he had never flown but only designed ornithopters, gliders and helicopter. It was actually an Kurdish Arab by the name of Abbas Bin Firnas who took off from a hill near Cordoba, Spain over a thousand years ago.

The picture in the bottom panel is a walk-through whereby the visitor walks across the the bridge with his/her arms stretched out to imitate the pattern of flight, no – you do not flap your arms up and down, but in a figure ‘8’!  It IS tiring!


Abbas Bin Firnas climbed into the harness of his glider, launched himself into the air and flew across the Spanish countryside. He was the first aviator, 1 000 years before Otto Lilienthal in Germany.

Trade runs deep in the blood of Islam. There is a section in the exhibition exploring the rich history of their nomadic and trading society, where travel and exploration were fundamental to the Arabian way of life.


Navigational Tools

Here is an interactive instruction panel whereby the visitors can lift the panel and discover for themselves information and sights and sounds of trade.


Lift the flaps on the info-panel to relive the sounds and smell of souks in the yesteryears

Muslim physicians were one of the pioneers for modern medicine. There is a huge section on the rich history from the building of the first sophisticated hospital, the inventing of surgical instruments and procedures to the huge strides made by these scholars in understanding how the human body works!


Medical Display Section



Modern and ancient surgical instruments – a comparison



Mathematics and proportions architecture



Early automated irrigation system



Examples of deflection and reflection of light



Sample of a display room


Interactive touch screen maps with explanations

Kudos to the team of sweet smiling young volunteers who are all very pleasant and eager to offer explanations without prompting on the various exhibits there.  They also organise a fun-filled activities section for children adn the young at heart!

How do you transfer the water from the top vessel to the bottom one in the fastest way possible?  Think the washine machine




How do you distribute 4 litres of water equally from a 3 litres and 5 litres bottles?

Quiz: Remember  the scene in ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ where Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson had to diffuse a bomb by placing 4 gallons of water on a set of scales? Well, how do you distribute 4 litres of water equally from a 3 litres and 5 litres bottles? If you decide to give up, here’s the answer.

I am most definitely recommending this educational and activity filled exhibition, after all it has been personally endorsed by HRH Prince Charles! The exhibition will end on June 15 2013 – get there quick! Not to be missed!

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Sultans of Science: Islamic Science Rediscovered @Petrosains, The Discovery Centre

  1. Pingback: Leonardo’s Marvellous Inventions Exhibition | Out For a Long Lunch

  2. Thank you very much for visiting us & for your nice review/blog post on us! We’re glad that you liked it & hope to see you again. Do keep recommending the Sultans of Science to your friends while it’s still here. May we share your blog post to our friends on Facebook or Twitter? fb/petrosains

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