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In anticipation of the world premiere of the Galileo: Scientist, Scholar, Visionary exhibition in February 2021 we would like share with you some of our most intriguing findings about the Italian natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician. While some of these facts are obscure, Galileo’s discoveries four centuries ago enabled great paradigm shifts in science, and paved the way for space travel in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Galileo’s professional rivalry

While teaching as head Mathematician at Padua University, Galileo became embroiled in an ongoing and heated public debate with his colleague Cesare Cremonini, a renowned Natural Philosopher.

Cremonini, who followed the Aristotle school of belief that the planets (including the sun) orbit the Earth publicly denounced Galileo writing; It is hard to realize what a fundamental blow to all Natural Philosophy it would be if a mere Mathematician could prove actual change in the heavens.

As Cremonini believed that heavenly bodies were created by God, he argued that Galileo’s measurements could not be accurate because he was using mortal instruments to measure the divine.

Galileo responded by publishing a well-reasoned discussion, in colloquial dialect rather than high Latin, between two rural peasants.

One of the peasants remarks: When it comes to measuring things we shouldn’t trust Philosophers, after all, what have they ever measured? We should instead trust in the measurements of the Mathematicians who care not whether something is fashioned from the divine or from polenta, because their measurements will still hold true.

The origins of quarantine

Did you know?

The word “quarantine” originates from the word for “forty” in the Venetian dialect (quarantena). This is due to the 40-day isolation of ships, people and goods entering a port as a means of disease prevention during the time of the black death (Bubonic plague) which spread through Europe between 1348 and 1359 killing 30% of Europe’s population!

(Photo: Plague Doctor mask at Venetian Carnivale)

Did you know that Galileo was the first scientist to measure heart rate?

At a young age, while watching a lamp swinging in the Pisa Cathedral, Galileo discovered that each full swing of a pendulum takes exactly the same amount of time regardless of whether the arc of the swing is wide or narrow. He used his own pulse to measure the time of each of the lamp’s swings. Many years later after studying medicine at the University of Pisa he used this knowledge to create the Harmonic Oscillator, a machine that accurately measures the human heart rate.

Scientist rebel

Galileo (1564-1642) challenged some of the fundamental knowledge of his time, providing proof that certain long held beliefs were incorrect, and paving the way for a better scientific future.

In his time it was accepted that the Earth was at the centre of the universe and the planets, including the sun, rotated around it. Thanks to Galileo’s tenacious observation of the natural world with his new and ultra powered telescope,  coupled with his meticulous note taking, he was able to plot the movements of the planets around the sun.

Galileo’s game-changing ball experiment

Never happy to take someone else’s word, Galileo wanted to test everything for himself before forming his beliefs. This led him to his most famous experiment. Legend has it, he simultaneously dropped a heavy ball and a light ball from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test which would fall the fastest.

Counter to the ‘understood knowledge’ of the day, Galileo was able to prove that the balls would reach the ground at the same speed, despite their different weights.