Category Archives: Leonardo da Vinci

The nature of genius

What do the world’s greatest thinkers, scientists, artists, and visionaries have in common?

Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo Da Vinci and Galileo Galilei drew on the scientific knowledge of their times. They observed, measured, and imagined. They challenged widely accepted and long-held beliefs and created new knowledge. Each of them tested their hypotheses and adjusted their theories. Their discoveries changed the course of history.

We have the privilege of touring the iconic machines and exhibits based on the groundbreaking works of these geniuses. In the process of creating our exhibitions, the Artisans make discoveries of their own and unravel mysteries that bring us closer to understanding the nature of genius.

Not many of us will ever have the impact on the world that Archimedes, Da Vinci and Galilei have had, but we can learn from them.

In the words of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer:

Talent hits a target no one else can hit;
Genius hits a target no one else can see

Australia’s da Vinci

David Unaipon (1872 – 1967), a Ngarrindjeri man of the Coorong region of South Australia, was an author, inventor, evangelical preacher, and political activist. His many significant accomplishments during a period that book-ends Australian federation challenged the prejudiced stereotypes held about Aboriginal people.

Unaipon spent much of his life reading science books and was particularly fascinated by perpetual motion. His deep understanding of the fundamental principles of physics led to his most successful invention, a sheep-shearing handpiece that converts curvilinear motion into the straight-line movement. This design, partially patented in 1909 greatly improved the efficiency of the cutting blades and is still in use today.

His helicopter design in 1914, based on the aerodynamics of the boomerang, pre-dates the manufacture of the world’s first ‘hovering aircraft’ by 25 years.

His research into the polarisation of light points to him also being a pioneer in the field of photonics. In an interview published in the Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA 1/6/1914) he said; “We are gradually coming to the age when we might expect to be able to hurl electricity, like Nature does, for instance, in the shape of lightning.”

Unaipon’s legacy has been re-examined in more recent times, and his image along with his shearing shears design has been on the Australian $50 banknote since 1995.

Perpetual motion: a long history

Since the dawn of technology, humans have sought ways of using machines and inventions to make work easier. Even though we can use machines to create mechanical advantage, it is sadly not possible for any machine to produce more energy than is put into it. As Albert Einstein put it, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another”.

Galileo Galilei never explicitly expressed his thoughts on perpetual motion machines, however, we can see from several of his lecture notes, made while a professor at the University of Padua in Venice, that he clearly understood that perpetual motion machines are indeed not possible. As he eloquently put it, “Nature cannot be deceived”.

When discussing this principle, Galileo used the analogy of drawing water from a well by hand with a bucket. He conjectured, “whoever believes they are able to draw a greater amount of water from a well, in the same time, with the same force is in grave error”.

Leonardo da Vinci sketched a hypothetical perpetual motion machine (pictured here). Hundreds of years before theories of thermodynamics were developed, he understood that despite its allure, such a machine was impossible. He wrote; “Oh ye seekers after perpetual motion, how many vain chimeras have you pursued? Go and take your place with the alchemists.”