Curiosity is a powerful feeling. It is why we know the Earth is round and weighs 5 974 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 kilograms. Or why a group of wizzkids invented a Google algorithm that gave that answer in less than a second. It is also what makes ADC go around, driving students and teacher from all over Europe to enroll with our Internship Programmes. So let's celebrate curiosity in all its quizzical glory! Over the next few months we will introduce seven curious people who changed the world. It is time for our sixth chapter: Galileo Galilei.
When Galileo Galilei in the early 15th century proposed that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, like Aristotle had suggested hundreds of years prior, the Catholic Church swiftly condemned his discoveries as heretic and brought him in front of the inquisition. But Galilei kept collecting evidence and stood by his theory until his death, even when he was under house arrest and forbidden to publish his work. What would you have done? Could the drive of curiosity and search for truth really be stronger than the need for freedom? Looking back at Galilei's biography, it seems like he couldn't help himself. His discoveries were too eye-opening to ignore.
The son of a music theorist and composer, Galilei was born in Pisa in 1564. Brought up to be a devoted Catholic, the young Galilei considered priesthood. His father, on the other hand, persuaded him to enroll at the University of Pisa to study medicine, where he became fascinated with a number of subjects, including physics and mathematics. One day at campus, he noticed a swinging chandelier and, measuring it with his heartbeat, noticed that it took the same amount of time to swing back and forth no matter how far it reached. When he returned home, he put two pendulums together – a construction very alike the timepiece invented by Christiaan Huygens one hundred years later. This, if anything, proved that Galilei's talent swerved towards mathematics and science rather than medicine and after accidentally attending a lecture on geometry, he managed to convince his father to change his degree.
In the beginning of his studies, Galilei accepted the Aristotelian geocentric view of the world, like any academic of his time, and aimed to become a university professor. Eventually, he published The Little Balance, which described the hydrostatic principle of weighing small quantities and earned him some recognition among his peers. He gained a teaching post at Pisa and then later, following his continuous criticism of the Aristotelian view on falling objects, at Padua University.
In 1604, Galilei continued his research on motion and falling objects and became more vocal about his support for the Copernican theory of the heliocentric solar system – the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. A few years later, he developed the telescope and turned it towards the sky, revealing that the moon was not flat but a sphere with mountains and craters and that Venus had phases and circulated around the sun. He began to build up evidence supporting the Copernican theory, challenging Aristotle's doctrine and the dominant worldview supported by the Catholic Church.
When Galilei's letter to a student, implying that the Bible was written from an earthly perspective and that science could lend a more accurate perspective on the universe, was brought in front of the inquisition, the Copernican theory was pronounced heretic. Galilei was forbidden to "hold, teach or defend in any manner" the Copernican view of the movement of the earth and for a few years he obeyed. A few years later, Galilei published a supposedly neutral discussion booklet on the matter, where the proposer of the Aristotelian view came across as unintelligent. He was once again summoned to Rome and this time, after long court proceedings, threatened with torture and put under house arrest.
Although Galilei was strictly ordered not omit any visitors or publish anything outside of Italy, he ignored both directives. Translations of his work was printed in both France and Holland. He also wrote one of his most famous scientific papers during house arrest, Two New Sciences - a summary of his life's work - which was published in Holland in 1638.
Galilei died in 1642 at the age of 77 after nine years in house arrest. Although his theory of the earth's movements never gained public acceptance during his lifetime, the truth of his science eventually caught up with the Catholic Church. In 1758, the Church lifted its ban on most works supporting the Copernican theory and in 1835 it finally dropped its denial of heliocentrism. Galileo Galilei played an important part in the scientific revolution and is now thought of as the "Father of modern science".
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