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Best of Blue Dot: Leonardo da Vinci's gravity experiments: discoveries from Leonardo's notebooks!

Caltech's reproduction of Leonardo's gravity experiment.
Courtesy of CalTech
Caltech's reproduction of Leonardo's gravity experiment.

Host Dave Schlom visits with California Institute of Technology Professor of Aeronautics and Medical Engineering Mory Gharib and Chris Roh from Cornell University about their new paper published in the MIT journal Leonardo.

In it, Gharib chronicles the discovery of experiments to determine the acceleration due to gravity a century before Galileo's groundbreaking work on the subject.


While searching for some of Leonardo's work on fluid dynamics in the recently released Codex Arundel notebook at the British Library, Gharib happened upon sketches of triangles and the phrase "Equatione di Moti" on the hypotenuse of an isosceles right triangle.

What did it mean? After studying Leonardo's famous left-handed mirror script and the sketches, Gharib found that Leonardo was doing experiments to determine the acceleration of gravity.

Joined by then Caltech graduate student Roh, the team attempted to reproduce Leonardo's experiments in the lab and found that, though he lacked the mathematical tools to accurately find the value for the acceleration of gravity on Earth (9.81 m/s/s), Leonardo's findings were amazingly accurate. It's a modern-day detective story about one of the greatest minds ever!

Caltech reproduction of Leonardo's gravity experiment.

Dave Schlom is the longtime host and creator of Blue Dot. From surfing to Voyager in interstellar space, rock guitar to orcas in our imperiled oceans, the topics on Blue Dot are as varied as the host’s interests and connections -- which are pretty limitless! An internationally respected space history journalist, Dave is also deeply fascinated by all aspects of the grand workings of nature’s awesome machinery on scales ranging from galactic to subatomic. And topics take in all aspects of the arts and sciences.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.