It is a little-known fact that Leonardo da Vinci worked in entertainment. Of course, the industry didn’t exist in the Renaissance, but da Vinci was a skilled musician and he created and played quirky and beautiful musical instruments. There are many written accounts of the elaborate theatrical props that da Vinci invented as well as staging that made actors appear and disappear as if by magic for his wealthy patrons.
Da Vinci’s ability to imagine and sketch dragons and other fantastical creatures with wings was key to his genius. He was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a mechanical lion for the amusement of Francois I, the King of France. The fearsome-looking automaton would propel itself onto the stage. When the King struck it would open its mouth releasing lillies, the King’s floral emblem.
Other accounts tell of actors dressed as angels with wings entering the stage by hidden ropes creating the illusion they had flown from the heavens, much to the delight, awe, and wonder of the guests of the court. Even the sketch of the bicycle, found in the Codex Atlanticus (1478-1519), was thought to have been not so much the precursor to the two-wheeled vehicle but a stage prop.
Visitors to the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville Florida can see for themselves how entertainment, and specifically the art of comedy, was reshaped during da Vinci’s times.
Galileo’s revolutionary ideas were well ahead of his time. His astronomical discoveries demonstrated that the Earth revolves around the Sun as it spins on its own axis and his Pendulum Laws led to the first clocks and the birth of experimental science.
Imagine Galileo’s delight if he were able to fast forward a few hundred years to the Paris observatory in 1851 to see a marvelous demonstration by French Physicist Léon Foucault. Foucault was able to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation to astonished crowds by setting an enormous pendulum in motion.
As the Foucault Pendulum swings back and forth it slowly rotates around the room, or at least that’s how it appears to us mere Earthbound mortals! In actual fact, we are not observing the pendulum rotate around the room, we are watching the Earth rotate around the pendulum!
You really have to see it to believe it! But if you aren’t able to make it to beautiful New Zealand for the world premiere of the Galileo exhibition in February 2021 you can watch this great time-lapse demonstration by Environmental Scientist Kurtis Baute.
A new biography about Italian scientist, astronomer and mathematician, Galileo Galilei, makes a compelling argument that is as important today as it was 400 years ago. In Galileo and the Science Deniers, Mario Livio reveals Galileo’s courage and the personal struggles he endured throughout his life because of his unwavering search for the truth supported by science.
It seems unthinkable now because we take certain scientific facts for granted, but in 1633 Galileo was tried, convicted, and sentenced to house arrest by the Catholic Church. His “crime” was to challenge the widely-held belief that the universe was a creation of God, with the Earth firmly located at its centre. Thanks to Galileo and his powerful telescope, he was able to prove that the Earth is one of the many planets that rotate around the sun.
Each beautifully written and insightful chapter delves into the discoveries for which Galileo has been named the father of modern science.
Adam Riess, Nobel Laureate in Physics, writes of the book;
It is fashionable to invoke Galileo on both sides of any debate to claim the mantle of truth. In Galileo and the Science Deniers, Livio teaches us the method by which Galileo found the truth – a process more powerful than rhetoric – examination. Today more than ever we need to understand what made Galileo synonymous with finding the truth.
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.
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.
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.
In anticipation of the world premiere of the Galileo: Scientist, Astronomer, Visionary exhibition in February 2021 we would like share with you some of our most intriguing findings about the Italian scientist, 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.