Today we look at some of the wonderful inventions and discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci! We cover his work on anatomy, geology, his design of a robotic knight, his design for a practical parachute and more.
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Hi everyone! This is episode thirteen of the Metaphysics of Physics podcast. I am Ashna, your host and guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science. Thanks for tuning in!
Today we are going to go over some of the inventions and discoveries of possibly the greatest Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci!
We cannot hope to cover all his inventions and discoveries. We will simply go over some of the ones we find the most interesting.
As this is simply an overview of some of his inventions and discoveries, we will almost certainly return to the topic of Leonardo da Vinci and cover his history, some of his influences and what influence he had on those that came after him. However, we will see a little bit of the influence he had on others in this episode.
Credit to the website Leonardo da Vinci Inventions which was used to check and reference much of the information in this podcast. You can check the site out here.
But, without further ado, let us see how many we can cover, in alphabetical order.
Leonardo was extremely interested in the human body and dissected many, many bodies. More than 30 according to his own claims.
Leonardo, being the great artist he was, drew many very detailed and remarkably accurate sketches of various parts of the human body. |
In 1510-1511 alone he compiled a series of 18 largely double-sided sheets containing over 240 drawings and 13,000 words of notes.
This is known as the Anatomical Manuscript A and is housed in the Royal Collection.
He made many major discoveries as a result of all this work.
For instance, he produced the first accurate depiction of the human spine. As well as the first accurate description of cirrhosis of the liver.
The heart surgeon Francis Wells, working at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, has examined many of Leonardo’s sketches. He has commented that they were far better than anything he had seen in modern textbooks of anatomy.
In his words: “They were beautiful, accurate, absorbing – and there was a liveliness to them that you just don’t find in any modern anatomical drawings.”
He is not the only medical expert to express such opinions. Several other experts have expressed the view that his works are better than most or all other modern works they have seen.
In his time and well after, it was believed that the heart had a two-chambered structure. However, Leonardo discovered that it had four.
As well as this, he discovered that the atria or filling chambers contract together while the pumping chambers or ventricles relax and vice versa.
But, more impressive even than this, are his observations about the aortic valve which he made while experimenting with an ox’s heart.
He was interested in the way the aortic valve opens and closes to ensure that blood flows in one direction.
So, he constructed a model by filling a bovine heart with wax. Once the wax hardened, he recreated the structure in glass and them pumped water mixed with grass seeds through it.
This allowed him to observe tiny vortices as the seeds swirled around in the widened root of the aorta. This allowed him to correctly posit that these vortices helped to close the aortic valve.
Since he never published his journals, this was not understood until the 20th century. In 1968, two engineers in Oxford demonstrated it. The only reference in the paper was to Leonardo.
His studies of anatomy may have proved useful in helping him develop some of his inventions.
For instance, by studying how muscles worked, he may have gained insight into how to approximate human motion using mechanical means.
This is often referred to as a machine gun, however, it is not the same kind of “machine gun” we know today. It was composed of 33 small-caliber guns, likely hand muskets.
These 33 guns were divided into three rows of 11 guns each. They were connected to a revolving platform and attached to this platform were large wheels.
All 33 guns would be loaded and then all 11 guns from the first row would be fired. The platform was then rotated so that the next row of guns could be aimed. The first row of guns could then cool down and the third row could be loaded and ready to fire.
But why is it referred to as an organ? It is because the rows of guns resemble the pipes of an organ.
As far as we know, one of these has not been built in modern times, unlike some of his other inventions. However, we can imagine it would have made an effective and deadly weapon of war.
This huge bronze horse was commissioned in 1482 by the Duke of Milan and was to be 24-feet tall.
The construction of this mammoth horse required making it out of a solid piece of bronze coming in at 80 tons.
Leonardo used his experience of building bronze cannons to help plan how to build the bronze horse. It required him to invent new mold-making techniques and an innovative oven to reach the high temperatures required to melt so much bronze.
Leonardo had finally solved all the problems required to create the huge horse when tragedy struck. In 1494, King Charles invaded France. In order to delay King Charles, the Duke offered King Charles a bribe of the bronze set aside for the creation of the horse.
Which was less than helpful, as the French simply used the bronze to make cannons.
In 1977, a retired airline pilot and artist, one Charles Dent decided to create the horse. He spent 17 years working on it before he died in 1994.
However, in 1999, the horse was completed and gifted to the people of Milan in Italy.