In honor of his birthday this month, the STEAM person of this week is the legendary genius Galileo Galilei!
Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de Galilei was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer, sometimes described as a polymath, from Pisa. Galileo has been called the “father of observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of the scientific method”, and the “father of modern science”.
Galileo studied speed and velocity, gravity and free fall, the principle of relativity, inertia, projectile motion and also worked in applied science and technology, describing the properties of pendulums and “hydrostatic balances”. He invented the thermoscope and various military compasses, and used the telescope for scientific observations of celestial objects. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the observation of the four largest satellites of Jupiter, the observation of Saturn’s rings, and the analysis of sunspots.
Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism and Copernicanism met with opposition from within the Catholic Church and from some astronomers. The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that heliocentrism was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture”.
Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII and thus alienated both the Pope and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo up until this point.He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest. During this time, he wrote Two New Sciences (1638), primarily concerning kinematics and the strength of materials, summarizing work he had done some forty years earlier.
Despite being a genuinely pious Roman Catholic, Galileo fathered three children out of wedlock with Marina Gamba. They had two daughters, Virginia (born 1600) and Livia (born 1601), and a son, Vincenzo (born 1606).
Galileo continued to receive visitors until 1642, when, after suffering fever and heart palpitations, he died on 8 January 1642, aged 77. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II, wished to bury him in the main body of the Basilica of Santa Croce, next to the tombs of his father and other ancestors, and to erect a marble mausoleum in his honour.