Thursday, April 19, 2018

Leonardo Da Vinci: Machines in Motion

We visited George Bush 41 museum in College Station, Texas. One of the exhibits on display this year is Leonardo Da Vinci's Machines in Motion. Da Vinci  lived from 1452 to 1519. He was a painter, architect, inventor, and student of all things scientific. His natural genius crossed so many disciplines that he epitomized the term “Renaissance man.” 

Armored Tank

The machines he invented were ahead of his time and these prototypes were built based upon the many designs he drew of his inventions. He combined a scientist's passion for exploring how things work and an artist's ability to vividly illustrate his revelations. His machines were ingenious and visionary ~~ often ahead of his time. They illustrate principles at the heart of machines today. He surely would have been fascinated by today's technology, but he may not have been overly surprised. After all, he predicted much of it.
The first one we saw was his flying machine. With this design, Da Vinci wanted to find out if a flapping wing could lift a person into the air. He wondered if a quick, powerful thrust of the lever could flap the wing strongly enough to lift an attached 200 pound weight. The actual machine was to be huge, about 40 feet long and 40 feet wide, more than six times larger than this model.

The Flying Machine
The next machine in the exhibit was a bicycle. A sketch of a bicycle was found in Da Vinci's Madrid Codex, but he probably did not draw it. No one knows who drew it, but it could have been one of his students. Bicycles did not appear until the 19th century. This drawing remains a mystery.

There were many drawings and machines, but I did not take pictures of them all. These are just some of the ones I thought amazing. This next one is an early cannon, which they called a "bombard" which was fired a stone ball. Da Vinci designed his bombard to fire deadly exploding shells that rained flaming iron fragments on their targets. The crank-worm screw assembly at the rear of the bombard allows soldiers to change aim and the shells' trajectory by adjusting the cannon's height. 

He also designed an armored tank. Da Vinci's version was to be operated from the inside by eight men who would load and fire the cannons and turn cranks to move the wheels. (He considered having horses power the vehicle but realized that animals and men cooped up together surrounded by explosives was not a good idea.) Four centuries after his death, the first tanks appeared on the battlefields of WWI, powered by internal combustion engines. They functioned much as he predicted.

Along with tanks and cannons, Da Vinci also invented a mobile machine gun. The barrels in Da Vinci's design fan out, enabling the gun to fire upon a wide swath of enemy soldiers. With its two large wheels, it's easily towed and turned. The tall worm screw at back controls the machine gun's aim by adjusting its height. Most likely the barrels are loaded from the rear, through the small door between the wheels (a technique called "breech loading"). Modern, breech-loaded machine guns didn't appear until the last half of the 19th century, during the U.S. Civil War.

Mobile Machine Gun
The heart of Da Vinci's Archimedes Screw is a worm screw: a shaft with a spiral thread along its length. Here a worm screw is combined with a gearwheel to make a worm gear. We often use worm gears today. Examples include a hoist such as this machine, automobile transmissions, conveyor belts, and tuning mechanisms for guitars and other instruments.

Worm Gear
Da Vinci watched blacksmiths at work, pounding iron into different shapes. He designed a machine to automate the basic process of striking a hammer onto an anvil. The rotating cam converts revolving motion to back and forth motion.

Dropping the hammer
Da Vinci invented a machine to make olive oil. The large driving lever turns an axle, which rotates a gearwheel in a neighboring axle, forcing a worm screw downwards to squeeze oil from a bag of olives. The oil then runs off into a container below the machine. The driving lever angles toward the ground so an animal such as a horse or ox can power it.

Olive Oil Press
Da Vinci invented the first ball bearing. In a ball bearing, smooth balls roll between two surfaces, reducing the friction between them. He used this design to construct a revolving stage for a theater production at the court of Milan. Today, the descendants of Da Vinci's ball bearing are found in many mechanisms, from skateboards to computer hard drives, conveyor belt rollers to Lazy Susans, automobile transmissions to bar stools.

Ball Bearing
Today Da Vinci remains best known for his art, including two paintings that remain among the world’s most famous and admired, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Art, Da Vinci believed, was indisputably connected with science and nature. Largely self-educated, he filled dozens of secret notebooks with inventions, observations and theories about pursuits from aeronautics to anatomy. But the rest of the world was just beginning to share knowledge in books made with moveable type, and the concepts expressed in his notebooks were often difficult to interpret. As a result, though he was lauded in his time as a great artist, his contemporaries often did not fully appreciate his genius—the combination of intellect and imagination that allowed him to create, at least on paper, such inventions as the bicycle, the helicopter and an airplane based on the physiology and flying capability of a bat.

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