Blue Dot: Leonardo da Vinci’s gravity experiment—discoveries from Leonardo’s notebooks! (3/18/2023)

Cal Tech reproduction of Leonardo’s gravity experiment. (Image courtesy of CalTech.)

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 Arunel 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 into one of the greatest minds of all time!

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