Galileo Galelei (do names get any better?) was born in Pisa, Italy, in 1564. With an obviously superior intellect, he entered university to study medicine, but turned his attention to his true passions. math and science. Money trouble forced him out before graduating, but he continued to study and took a teaching post at the University of Pisa when he was just 25.
It was there that he conducted experiments and began reaching conclusions that conflicted with long-held Aristotelian teachings, such as falling objects moving at a rate that was dependent on their masses. In fact, his refutation of the long-held ideas about motion led to his dismissal from the college.
In 1602, having gained a better role as Chair of Mathematics at the University of Padua, Galileo continued his work; more experiments with motion led to discoveries about the arc of a pendulum swing (the ichronisim, for us wannabe scientists) – these studies informed the next stage of clock-making.
Just a few years later, he would begin to express his agreement with Nicholas Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolved around the sun and not, as popular opinion held, the other way around. He also learned about a simple telescope, and like any good genius, took it upon himself to build one that would allow him to see into the heavens. Through this fantastic tool he saw the Moon’s craters and that Venus had phases, proveing that it revolved around the Sun.
His conclusions on heliocentrism came at a risky time. Though Copernicus’s had already posited the theory, the Catholic church of Galileo’s period deemed his work heretical and ordered him to recant it. He did, but following a book written and a series of events that ended with a trial, he was found guilty of heresy. Due to age he was given house arrest, which would last the rest of his life.
This weekend’s Marches for Science could have been a tribute to Galileo Galelei who, 375 years after his death, remains a powerful spokesperson for integrity and the pursuit of knowledge. His full story is far more complex and nuanced than I can do justice to – the works and ideas of brilliant scientists both astound and deeply intimidate me. And yet, through the layers of information about physics, momentum, and gravity, shines more of those qualities that seem to be in the DNA of my inspirers. Deep intellect. Curiosity and questioning. Commitment to truths and the bravery sometimes required to speak them.
When those two qualities – intelligence and courage – come together, nothing can stop them. Not even the Earth, as it travels round the ever-stationary Sun.