February 19, 2013

Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)

Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy in 1564 was a key figure in the scientific revolution in Europe about four centuries ago. Galileo proposed the concept of acceleration. From experiments on motion of bodies on inclined planes or falling freely, he contradicted the Aristotelian notion that a force was required to keep a body in motion, and that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies under gravity. He thus arrived at the law of inertia that was the starting point of the subsequent epochal work of Isaac Newton.
Galileo’s discoveries in astronomy were equally revolutionary. In 1609, he designed his own telescope (invented earlier in Holland) and used it to make a number of startling observations : mountains and depressions on the surface of the moon; dark spots on the sun; the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus. He concluded that the Milky Way derived its luminosity because of a large number of stars not visible to the naked eye.
In his masterpiece of scientific reasoning : Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo advocated the heliocentric theory of the solar system proposed by Copernicus, which eventually got universal acceptance. With Galileo came a turning point in the very method of scientific inquiry. Science was no longer merely observations of nature and inferences from them. Science meant devising and doing experiments to verify or refute theories. Science meant measurement of quantities and a search for mathematical relations between them. Not undeservedly, many regard Galileo as the father of modern science.