Institute and Museum of History of Science, Florence, ITALY

                      The main characters                   
René Descartes (1596-1650) Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655)

Justus Sustermans, Portrait of Galileo Galilei
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Galileo performs the experiment on falling bodies.
Affresco, Tribuna di Galileo, Museo Zoologico "La Specola"


Born in Pisa on 15th February, 1564, he taught natural philosophy at the University of Pisa. He then moved to the Studio at Padua, where he held the chair of Mathematics until 1610. In the Paduan years he carried out studies and experiments on mechanics, thought up the thermometer, and made the geometric and military compass. In 1609 he put together the first telescope, with which he made extraordinary discoveries in the heavens: from the mountains on the Moon to the mass of stars making up the Milky Way, from the phases of Venus to the four satellite moons of Jupiter, which he entitled the Medicean Planets in honour of the ruling house of Tuscany.
From 1612, opposition to Galileo's cosmological theories was on the rise. He claimed, along with Copernicus, that the Earth moved and that the Sun was the centre of the Universe. Particularly fierce and threatening was the hostility from theologians to the heliocentric theories put forward by Galileo. These conflicts lead to charges being brought against Galileo in 1633 by the Tribune of the Inquisition. The trial ended with the Pisan scientist's condemnation and abjuration.
The galileian contribution to pneumatics was essentially on the determination of the working limits of the suction pump, which he fixed at 18 braccia (about 11 metres). Galileo noted that beyond that level, the raised column of water collapsed. He attributed this limit to the force of the vacuum. The galileian analysis provided the base from which many natural philosophers (especially Berti, Magiotti, Magni and Torricelli) set off to make their discoveries of atmospheric pressure and the real possibility of producing the vacuum in nature. In this sense, even though Galileo was far away from fully understanding the role of atmospheric pressure in pneumatic phenomena, his theses provided an essential starting-point, both on the strictly theoretical level and on that of methodology, for working out the conceptual apparatus of the modern "science of the vacuum".





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