March 26, 2023

Da Vinci had understood the concepts of gravity before Newton

Artist Leonardo da Vinci may have understood the basic concepts of gravity years before physicists Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. After reviewing digital versions of the Renaissance notebook, engineers at Caltech Publish an article in the newspaper Leonardoearlier this month.

According to the researchers, even with errors in his calculations, a reconstruction of da Vinci’s experiments reveals that he “formulated the gravitational constant (“g”) with approximately 97% accuracy”, with respect to existing methods and equations.

“By developing the geometric equivalence approach to demonstrating the laws of motion, Leonardo provided a remarkable insight into the dynamics of falling bodies, obviating the need to know the exact value of ‘g’, because we assume that ‘g’ represents rate-change of velocity or acceleration,” the engineers wrote.

Sketches of the Renaissance by Leonardo da Vinci | Image: California Institute of Technology

Gravity and Acceleration Through Da Vinci’s Eyes

The artist’s drawings show triangles formed by “particles of sand” emerging from the jar. These falling pellets represent experiments to show that gravity was a form of acceleration.

“If the sling accelerates at a constant rate, the line created by the collection of falling material makes a straight but inclined line, which then forms a triangle,” the authors report. “As da Vinci pointed out in a key diagram, if the sling’s motion accelerates at the same rate as gravity accelerates the falling matter, it creates an equilateral triangle.”

Da Vinci experiment simulation Image: California Institute of Technology

Artists’ drawings are “out of their time”

For the researchers, “If da Vinci had conducted the experiment he described in his manuscript, he might have been the first human to have consciously generated the effect of a ‘g’ force without being in free fall.”

“We don’t know if da Vinci did more experiments or investigated this question more deeply,” said one of the article’s authors. “But the fact that he was approaching this problem in this way in the early sixteenth century shows how advanced his thinking was.”

Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in Italy and was a painter, architect, inventor, anatomist, engineer and scientist. The self-taught Renaissance man made dozens of secret notebooks with fanciful inventions and anatomical notes.