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Galileo Galelei

Mathematician, physicist, astronomer

Is it possible for one person to be the “father of modern physics”, the “father of modern astronomy”, and the “father of science”? The answer is yes. That man is none other than Galileo Galilei.

He has contributed much to the study of science, mostly as an astronomer, a philosopher, mathematician, and a physicist. His era also marked another historically important period in which science and religion clashed, leading to what is known as the freedom of thought.

Galileo was born in Pisa, Italy on the 15th of February 1564. Galileio studied at a monastery where he learned logic, music, religion, Latin, and Greek and got good grades.

His father was musician and mathematician, but sold wool for a living. His mother belonged to a higher social class than his father, and his father constantly had to earn more money to help support his wife’s lifestyle.

Vincenzio Galilei, Galileo’s father pushed him towards becoming a doctor when he was only 10 years old, even though Galileo did not like it. However, he did not have much choice, and entered the University of Pisa in 1581 when he was 17 years old.

Since he was unhappy is medical school Galileo started studying mathematics like his father. Soon his father took him out of the University of Pisa because he was not doing well and because the family could not afford it.

Even though Galileo is famous for his inventions of the thermometer (to measure temperature), the telescope, the hydrostatic balance, and many more, what many people do not know is that he had been inventing since his childhood.

When he was a child Galileo used to gather items around the house and build small mechanical toys. This practice helped him a lot later in life when he was building and inventing the many things he is known for today.

Galileo taught mathematics at his old university, and taught mechanics, geometry, and astronomy, later at another university. During this time, he questioned many scientific laws, came up with new ones, and made many discoveries and inventions.

What most people do not know is that some of Galileo’s inventions were created to help him support his family. The compass he built was used for aiming cannonballs and later for land surveying.

He created the telescope, which was first able to enlarge the picture three times, but was able to improve it to enhance the image 30 times. It was used on land and sea, and made him quite wealthy.

In owned the rights of a water pump that he created which was powered by a horse, and designed the pendulum clock in 1641 but could not complete it before he died.

Among Galileo’s discoveries were the four largest satellites (moons) on Jupiter (1610), the craters on the moon (before that the moon was thought to be smooth), the four moons around Saturn, the tides of Earth and other comets in space.

Galileo was also the first to correctly observe sunspots. Even though the astronomer Kepler had observed them before in 1607, he did not understand what they were.

Studying all these heavenly bodies, Galileo agreed with Aristarchus (c. 270 BC) and later Nicolas Copernicus’ theory of ‘heliocentricism’. This theory believed that the sun is the center of the universe and that all the planets orbit around it.

He also made an important discovery by observing falling objects that he used to drop from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He proved that two objects of different weights that fall to the ground reach the ground at the same time.

Galileo was also the first person to understand the basic principle of relativity, that Einstein improved later on. Galileo observed that the laws of physics were the same for any system that was moving at an even speed in a straight line, irrespective of how fast or in which direction it is travelling. So basically there is no absolute movement or absolute rest.

His theory of the pendulum came after watching a lamp that was fixed to a church ceiling swinging side to side. He believed that the time a pendulum takes to swing from side to side is not connected to its arc.

He was also the first to design the pendulum clock in 1641, even though he could not finish it before he died.

He also tried to measure the speed of light, by standing on top of a hilltop with his assistant, each with a lamp that had a shutter.

When the first person opens the shutter, the second one would open his shutter only when he sees the light of the first person’s lamp. The time it took between the first and second shutters opening was what Galileo considered the speed of light.

The further the two people went from each other (less than a mile) it was more difficult to see the light from the first person’s lamp.

Other scientists later conducted this experiment again, and they too like Galileo could not come to a final understanding on the speed of light.

Even though it is not very well known, Galileo was the first to understand the speed of sound too.

Galileo contributed a lot to the field of math too. Most of the physics experiments and discoveries he made, he explained through complicated mathematical formulas, some of which are still used today.

He strongly believed that the book of nature (the world) was written and could be understood through mathematics. This was a huge change from the earlier accepted ways, where people did not question or experiment with things of nature.

With this statement, Galileo changed the entire path of natural philosophy because now people could (mathematically) experiment and discover things by proving certain theories.

Galileo’s many discoveries in astronomy are very important because they went against what was accepted at the time, which was Aristotle’s theory of Aristotelian Cosmology (that believed that all planets circled around the Earth).

Even though his theory of the pendulum is not considered true today, his observation helped to shape the journey of Christian Huygens who uncovered the truth.

He contributed much to our understanding of the laws of nature, physics, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy by keeping very detailed notes. Some of these notes have survived the years are still available today.

The Catholic Church did not share this great Catholic man’s views at that time. The church was especially disturbed by his view of the heliocentric model of the universe; because they believed in a ‘geocentric model’, which said that the earth was the centre of the universe.

This difference of views led Galileo to run into a lot of trouble with the church and when he was 69 years old, he was sentenced to prison. Because he was quite feeble they kept him under house arrest.

During house arrest, he was not allowed to see his doctors, and he even went completely blind. He still managed to publish a few of his findings during this time too.

He lived near his doctor for the remainder of his life, until he eventually passed away in 1642 in Italy.