Galileo's Daughter: Science in History

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Galileo Galilei, often referred to as the ‘father of experimental physics’ (18), was of many roles a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. He began his studies at the University of Pisa in 1581, attending until 1585 but earning no degree. After proving his talent in mathematics with written papers, proofs and the occasional public lecture, Galileo secured a teaching profession at the University of Pisa in 1589 and so began his career-long experimental science journey. At the time, the Aristotelian concept was accepted as doctrine by the Roman-Catholic Church and all of Europe honored his principles. In other words, to question his edict was considered heresy. However, Galileo’s contribution to the evolution of science and scientific thought is sought as one of the most profound as he was a man of persistence and brilliance. He first pondered the Aristotelian idea that if one object, weighing one pound and another ten pounds, the latter would fall ten times faster. Quite frankly, the idea ‘struck Galileo as preposterous’ (19). This may have marked Galileo’s first suspected doubt of Aristotelian ways but certainly was not his last. Much to Galileo’s curiosity, he conducted the experiment atop the Leaning Tower by dropping two balls, one weighing in at one hundred pounds and another at one pound. With the Pisan philosophy department on hand to observe the outcome, Galileo suspected they would hit the ground at the same time, however, the larger ball beat the smaller by a mere two inches. This difference was a sigh of relief for Pisan philosophers who were willing to overlook ninety-nine braccia (arm lengths) in order to continue to follow the ‘wisdom of Aristotle’ (20) and therefore remain consistent with doctrine. This experiment would not be Galileo’s last attempt to test Aristotelian doctrine, but did mark the beginning of a new type of experimental science. Galileo then took a mathematics position at the University of Padua in 1592 where he continued to study the properties of motion. His determination to find a mathematical solution to ‘how bodies accelerate during free fall’ (30) remained; however, he became distracted by the spyglass which was gaining popularity. Once he acquired a piece of the equipment, he worked diligently to improve the instruments magnification. Then he brought it to the Venetian senate. Impressed by the new device, the Venetian senate renewed Galileo’s contract for employment at the University of Padua for life. By November 1609, Galileo had developed a telescope with twice the power of the formerly improved piece. His interest now turned toward observing the Heavens where he began to study and disprove the Aristotelian theory of ‘celestial bodies as immutable perfect spheres.’ (31) He spent half of the following December observing and drafting a collection of detailed drawings of the Moon in its phases and noticed its mountains and valleys. Next, he began to observe the stars: both fixed and wandering (planets). With his keen observations he ‘became the first to distinguish them further’ (31) by the light they emitted. By January he discovered the four moons of Jupiter and promptly published The Starry Messenger which described his discoveries. The book was dedicated to Prince Cosimo II of the Medici family which Galileo was closely connected to. The Medici’s had authority in the Republic of Florence where Galileo spent his time when the University of Padua closed between terms. He was a mathematical mentor to the royal family and tutored the young Prince Cosimo II who later became the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The four moons therefore earned the name Medicean stars. After reading a copy of The Starry Messenger, Cosimo appointed Galileo ‘The Chief Mathematician of the University of Pisa and Philosopher and Mathematician to the Grand Duke.’ (36) Galileo was also granted a personal library with limited teaching duties so he was able study the world around him and publish his discoveries under the...
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