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Da Vinci's 'Irrelevant' Doodles Were Actually A Groundbreaking Physics Discovery

First Posted: Jul 25, 2016 06:22 AM EDT
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Leonardo Da Vinci is considered to be one of the many people with the greatest minds in history. And years ago, some art historians dismissed some doodles in Da Vinci's notebooks, calling it "irrelevant." But, a new study revealed that those scribbles from 1493 were actually the first written records showing the laws of friction.

Business Insider reported that a new detailed study from Ian Hutchings, a professor at the University of Cambridge, revealed that a page of scribbles from Da Vinci's notebooks dated 1493 contained something groundbreaking: The first written records demonstrating the laws of friction.

Even though it has already been known that Da Vinci made the first systematic study of friction (which underpins the modern science of tribology, or the study of friction, lubrication, and wear), it didn't include the information of how and when his brilliant mind came up with these ideas.

Hutchings was able to puzzle the pieces together of a detailed chronology, pinpointing da Vinci's "Aha!" moment to a single page of scribbles penned in red chalk in 1493.

Science Alert reported that according to Gizmodo, the page intrigued the minds of many people towards the start of the 20th century, mainly because of a faint sketch of a woman near the top, with the words, "cosa bella mortal passa e non dura", which translates to "mortal beauty passes and does not last".

However, in the 1920's, a museum director described the page as having "irrelevant notes and diagrams in red chalk".

Almost a century later, Hutchings thought this page was worth given a second look. He found that the rough geometrical figures drawn underneath the red notes showed rows of blocks being pulled by a weight hanging over a pulley, exactly the same kind of experiment students might do to show the laws of friction today.

Professor Hutchings said: "The sketches and text show Leonardo understood the fundamentals of friction in 1493. He knew that the force of friction acting between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together and that friction is independent of the apparent area of contact between the two surfaces. These are the 'laws of friction' that we nowadays usually credit to a French scientist, Guillaume Amontons, working two hundred years later."

Phys.org reported that Professor Hutchings was also able to reveal how Da Vinci used his understanding of friction to sketch designs for complex machines over the next two decades. He said that Da Vinci realized the usefulness and effectiveness of friction and combined the concept into the behavior of wheels, axles, and pulley which are important components of his complicated machines.

"Leonardo's 20-year study of friction, which incorporated his empirical understanding into models for several mechanical systems, confirms his position as a remarkable and inspirational pioneer of tribology," the Professor added. 

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