Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a man of varied interests and talents. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a topic that did not fire da Vinci’s imagination. At 14, da Vinci was apprenticed to an artist in Florence. He eventually opened his own studio, then moved to Milan where he painted The Last Supper. He also took on projects in engineering and architecture for the Duke of Milan and illustrated a book on mathematical proportions while in Milan. By 1500, da Vinci was back in Florence, focusing his interests on mathematics and science. His studies in fluids in motion took place at this time.
da Vinci wrote and drew on a variety of subjects. However, he wrote all his notes in left-handed mirror script. This made it difficult for the casual observer to read his notes. As a result, much of his work was unknown until after his death. Reading through the nearly 8,000 pages of notes that survive, we can see that he conceptualized the bicycle, airplane, helicopter, and parachute nearly 500 years before their time. His Codex Leicester contains his observations of water. His observations range from, “water does not move unless it descends” to the calculation of the volume of water flowing in a river or canal.
The lasting contribution da Vinci made to the field of fluid dynamics include his realization that water is incompressible – it does not take up significantly less space when pressure is applied. For an incompressible fluid such as water, da Vinci theorized, the number of pounds per second moving through any part of a system is constant. It can be described as AV=constant. AV=constant may sound complicated but you’ve likely noticed yourself that the water flowing from a hose flows more quickly when you make the opening smaller!
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