Observe and Understand

Leonardo's interest in flight led him into the world of engineering, where he invented a number of flying machines. Can you imagine Leonardo flying a helicopter over the streets of Milan? He also spent time as a military engineer, inventing a number of new weapons and defensive mechanisms. His other inventions ranged from improvements in the printing press to a diving apparatus that would allow swimmers to breathe under water. Many of his inventions were never built and were, in fact, beyond the technological capabilities of his time. However, some of his designs—his parachute, for instance—have been built in modern times, and they work quite well. Clearly, Leonardo's scientific thoughts were far ahead of his time.

Leonardo spent his childhood immersed in nature, both observing and sketching what he saw. As an adult, he asked questions and sought answers to the mysteries of the world around him. His investigations led him to study anatomy and zoology. He performed detailed dissections on both animals and humans. He was also interested in botany and geology and the behavior of water as a fluid.

Leonardo the Scientist

Leonardo's scientific pursuits have earned him a firm place as the first of the true modern scientists. In fact, if he hadn't also been such a talented artist, he might be remembered as a scientist who “sketched a little” on the side. Leonardo was uniquely placed historically, bridging the gap between the hocus-pocus of the medieval period, and inquiries of “modern” science. At the end of the Dark Ages in the fifteenth century, the scientific discoveries of classical Rome and Greece had been largely abandoned in favor of biblical teachings, which were taken as literal truth by most of the population.

Leonardo broke with this tradition by actually asking questions, and from his earliest days, he made detailed observations of the natural worldaround him. This work soon led to a desire to understand and predict, rather than just describe. Leonardo's tenacity and his varied interests allowed him to make important observations and discoveries in a wide range of scientific fields, from anatomy to zoology.

Leonardo's scientific studies were far-ranging. His studies of the motion and the behavior of fluids (such as water) were impressive. He investigated plants, animals, and geology. In addition, Leonardo made notes on astronomical topics, such as the nature of the moon, sun, and stars, and the formation of fossils.

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