Galileo Galilei, the Father of Modern Science

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642 is an Italian natural philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician who made fundamental contributions to the sciences of motion, astronomy and to the development of the scientific method.

Galileo was born in Pisa, Italy where he grew up with his brothers and sisters during the Italian Renaissance. His father was a lute player, a music teacher and a music theorist. His family moved to the city of Florence when he was ten years old. In his middle teens Galileo attended the monastery school at Vallombrosa, near Florence, and he was considered becoming a monk.

Galileo was an accomplished musician and an excellent student. When he was 16, Galileo enrolled at the University of Pisa to study medicine. Instead, he became interested in mathematics and physics. Galileo left the university in 1585 without earning a degree and got a job as a teacher.

During the time of Galileo Galilei , there weren’t really scientists as we know them today. People studied the works of the classical philosophers and thinkers such as Aristotle. They didn’t run experiments or test out the ideas. They just believed them to be true. Galileo, however, had different ideas. He wanted to test the principals and see if he could observe them in the real world. He basically started what is now known as the scientific method: test, test and test again.

A legend says that he climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and dropped cannonballs of different weights, to see which would strike the ground first. Even though their weights were not the same, they hit the ground at the same time. Galileo found that objects fall to the ground at the same rate, unless things like wind resistance change the rate. This went against the views of Aristotle, an ancient philosopher whose theory was different. Galileo’s findings were ignored by most people, and Aristotle’s view was still accepted as correct until Isaac Newton proved Galileo was right. This also led to Newton creating his Law of Gravity.

Galileo’s experiments made some people angry, however. They didn’t want the traditional views to be questioned. In 1592, Galileo moved from Pisa to the University of Padua, where he was permitted to experiment and discuss new ideas.

Some people believe that Galileo was the first person to build a telescope. This is not true, but he was the first person but he was the first person to use the optical instrument to systematically study the heavens. He is, hence, called the father of observational astronomy. He discovered that the Milky Way is made of many stars. He discovered that the Moon has hills. He found four moons around Jupiter. Those moons are now called the Galilean moons. He discovered sunspots, which are dark areas of the Sun. He saw that the planet Venus has light and dark phases just like the Moon. This helped people to know that the Sun is at the centre of the Solar System, as Nicolaus Copernicus had said.

For many years, scientists believed that the Sun and the planets revolved around the Earth. But Galileo was the first scientist to prove that this wasn’t actually correct, and that in fact the Earth and the planets revolved around the Sun. However, the powerful Catholic Church considered Galileo’s ideas as heresy. At first they sentenced him to life in prison, but later allowed him to live at his home in Tuscany under house arrest. Galileo continued to write while under house arrest.

In his later years he became blind. He died on January 8, 1642.

Some Interesting Facts about Galileo Galilei

  • We all imagine Galileo Galilei as an old man with long grey hair and fanatic eyes. That idea of him comes from his well-known portrait. But people are always surprised when they learn that Galileo Galilei made his first scientific discovery at the age of nineteen. This great Italian scientist became a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pisa when he was only twenty-one.
  • The Italian scientist also developed an advanced military compass, which could be used to target cannons against distant ships.
  • Galileo invented an early type of thermometer.
  • He did not invent the pendulum. However, in 1583, Galileo discovered the principle that controls the motion of pendulums.
  • Galileo has helped future scientists understand the laws of physics better. His basic principle of relativity says that the laws of physics are the same in any object, which is moving at a constant speed in a straight line, regardless of its particular speed or direction of motion. This set the foundation for Newton’s Laws of Motions and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
  • Galileo firmly believed that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, however he did not believe in Kepler’s theory that the moon caused the tides.
  • Galileo Galilei never got married. Yet, he had three children with Marina Gamba of Venice, with whom he lived for few years in Padua. His daughters were nuns in a convent near Florence. His son studied medicine at the University of Pisa, married well and resided in Florence.
  • German dramatist Bertold Brecht wrote a play about Galileo entitled Life of Galileo, which first appeared on Broadway in 1947 with Charles Laughton as the title character. The play was adapted to the screen in 1975 with Chaim Topol (listed as Topol) as the lead and Sir John Gielgud as a Cardinal Inquisitor.
  • The song “Galileo” is the biggest hit of the folk group Indigo Girls. The song is about reincarnation through the lens of the story of Galileo’s role in the scientific revolution.

Galileo Galilei’s Quotes

  • You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.
  • All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.
  • The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.
  • Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.
  • Mathematics is the key and door to sciences.
  • Two truths cannot contradict one another.