LEONARDO DA VINCI


Introduction


While navigating through this site, you might have found the image of Leonardo da Vinci practically inescapable. Some see him as the "Quintessential Engineer", one able to effectively combine scientific intellect with artistic creativity.

Perhaps best known as an artist, his name inevitably brings forth images of the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. He was also an architect and a scientist. Yet, if asked, he would ultimately refer to himself as an engineer. Driven by an unrelenting curiosity and an insatiable hunger for knowledge, da Vinci was an incredibly innovative thinker who perceived the world not only as his personal playground, but also as one with unlimited possibilities. From his fertile mind sprang designs of flying machines and instruments of war, as well as practical theories and concepts in engineering, mathematics, and science, many of which were centuries ahead of their times. If da Vinci lived in our time, his accomplishments would have been considered astounding.

As engineers, we originate, plan, design, orchestrate, and construct. The role that we play in this society is a vital one. Our only standard is to strive to be the best in all that we do.

Mirror Writing

Leonardo Da Vinci is also recognized for his "mirror writing" skills, which is done by starting at the right side of the page and moving to the left. Only when he was writing something intended for other people did he write in the normal direction. Possible motives for this include:

  • He was attempting to make it more difficult for other people to read his notes and steal his ideas.
  • He was concealing his scientific ideas from the powerful Roman Catholic Church, whose teachings sometimes disagreed with what Leonardo observed.
  • Writing left handed from left to right was messy because the ink would smear as his hand moved across it. Leonardo chose to write in reverse because it prevented smudging.

Click here for an example of what his handwriting might have looked like.

Contributions to the Field of Engineering

The writings and sketches that da Vinci left behind display his tremendous grasp of theories, rules and ideas that were only fleshed out hundreds of years later. His visionary ideas have encouraged experimentation and discovery even to modern times.
Mathematics

Leonardo did extensive work in geometry, focusing his attention on the study of arc rupture, a previously unexplored field. He made sketches that calculated the breaking strength of an arch, proving his understanding of the modern concept of the line of thrust. This knowledge was implemented in his designs of the domed churches he did for the Duke of Milan. His analysis of the strength of materials greatly advanced engineering practices.

Flying Machines

da Vinci was primarily interested in ornithopters, flapping wing machines designed to imitate the flight characteristics of birds. While his aeronautic experimentation served as an inspiration to engineers that followed, it wasn't until the early 1900's that any real flying machines were successfully launched. Leonardo was also intrigued by designs of what we now know as parachutes, helicopters and gliders.

Warfare

While serving as the primary engineer to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, da Vinci worked on designs of military tanks, submarines, catapults, and other combat devices.

Hydraulics

da Vinci's extensive work in the study of hydraulics was focused on the canals of the Arno and Lombardy regions. It is suggested that he probably invented the hydrometer, a device widely used to measure the gravity or density of a liquid.

Design

Cesare Borgian hired da Vinci to design a fortress. As this design, along with his work on the Lombard canal system, both clearly demonstrate, his approach was highlighted by a phenomenal emphasis on careful scientific observation and a thorough understanding of the strength of materials.


Even a careful examination of his immeasurable list of diversified interests, projects and talents does little to provide the full measure of Leonardo da Vinci. Nearly 500 years after his death, he remains the epitome of the Renaissance Man and the "Ideal Engineer".

More Designs by Leonardo da Vinci