Galileo Galilei – The Father of Modern Science.

Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy on 15 February 1564.  The eldest of six children born to Vincenzo Galilei and Giulia Ammannati, he was named after a relative called Galileo Bonaiuti who was a physician, university lecturer and politician.  As well as acquiring the same first name as his ancestor, Galileo Galilei was destined to follow in his footsteps by studying medicine at the University of Pisa.  It was whilst studying for his medical degree that his inquisitive mind began to flourish.  In 1581, whilst studying in Pisa, Galileo was looking at a chandelier in Pisa Cathedral.  As he studied the light fixture he noticed that it was swinging in larger and smaller arcs due to air currents.  By using his pulse as a timer he observed that it took the same amount of time to swing back and forth regardless of how far it was swinging.  This realization inspired an experiment Galileo assembled when he returned home.  He set up two pendulums which were equal in length, by swinging one through a large arc and the other with a smaller sweep Galileo observed that they kept time together.  This discovery led to Galileo’s study of time intervals and the development of his idea for a pendulum clock.  One hundred years later Christiann Huygens would use a swinging pendulum to create a timepiece. Until the time of Galileo, European scientists relied largely on Aristotle’s approach of philosophical analysis to explain physical phenomena. Galileo demonstrated the advantages of experimentation, and argued that physics should be a mathematics-based science. Galileo was among the scientists, including Kepler, Newton and others, who began the Scientific Revolution in Europe. Galileo’s work was instrumental in advancing the scientific method. His experimentation and mathematical approach to physics was revolutionary and ahead of his time. Galileo died in Arcetri, near Florence, Italy, on January 8, 1642, after suffering from a fever and heart palpitations. But in time, the Church couldn’t deny the truth in science. In 1758, it lifted the ban on most works supporting Copernican theory, and by 1835 dropped its opposition to heliocentrism altogether.  In the 20th century, several popes acknowledged the great work of Galileo, and in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret about how the Galileo affair was handled. Galileo’s contribution to our understanding of the universe was significant not only in his discoveries, but in the methods he developed and the use of mathematics to prove them. He played a major role in the scientific revolution and, deservedly so, earned the moniker “The Father of Modern Science.”

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