Surprising Physics Discoveries Hidden in Da Vinci’s Supposedly “Irrelevant” Doodles

Zarmeen Shahzad
Posted Jul 26, 2016
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Art has been a form that has been studied over the years and its various forms have often been contemplated over. No one has ever really been able to understand the complete thought processes of the artists involved but various assumptions have often been withdrawn.

Fancy scribbles turned out to be more than just doodles – contained physics breakthroughs on friction

Da Vinci was indeed one of the greatest inventors and artists in history. His doodles in his notebooks were often regarded as irrelevant and considered simple doodles. This was the case until only very recently. A recent study from Ian Hutchings, Professor at University of Cambridge showed that one page from da Vinci’s notebooks contained an amazing set of scribbles. These scribbles were as old as 1493 and weren’t worthless at all but were actually demonstrating the intricate laws of friction.

It is common knowledge that da Vinci conducted these first experiments on friction, but the exact time when it happened was unknown. Hutchings put together a detailed chronology of these experiments from the scribbles of da Vinci in red chalk.

Gizmodo suggests that this particular page drew attention because of a queer drawing of a woman near the top and a statement beside it “cosa bella mortal passa e non dura”. On translation this statement becomes “mortal beauty passes and does not last”. However, these scribbles were considered “irrelevant notes and diagrams in red chalk” by a 1920s museum director. After about a century later Mr. Hutchings thought that these scribbles demanded to be looked at once again. He found that these scribbles underneath the faint drawing of the woman, showed blocks being pulled by weights that hung over a pulley. These experiments lead us to our high school days when we conducted similar experiments demonstrating friction laws.

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Hutchings said in press release, “”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.”


Rightful recognition

Hutchings showed how da Vinci worked and studied friction and how he was able to sketch intricate designs for machines that were going to be used in the future. Da Vinci apparently was able to recognize the importance of friction and was able to apply these concepts to the workings of wheels, pulleys and axles. Imagine a life without these parts; modern machines cannot possible exist without these parts. Hutchings gives credit to da Vinci’s mind that was always ahead of its time and said, “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”.


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