Science of DaVinci

Leonardo Da Vinci exemplified the Renaissance Man. He was an "anatomist, botanist, geometer, physicist, architect, mechanical engineer, hydraulic engineer, civil engineer and even aeronautical engineer. Oh, and he also painted a little. Much of his success was due to his incredible skills of observation and his devotion to collecting and analyzing data. In a time when many scientists tried to "see" what they had been told was true, he found truth in what he actually saw.

In this hands-on science course students will try to sharpen their own observational skills. The class will test some of his inventions and some of his theories. Then each student will chose a subject based on Leonardo's work and independently conduct a series of experiments. Students will be required to present their work regularly. Lab reports will be required.

Excerpts from Gelb, M. (2000) How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci? Bantam Books
Excerpts from Anderson, M. (2006) Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself. Nomad Press
Excerpts from MacCurdy, E. (ed) (2003) The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Konecky, William S. Associates, Inc.
Excerpts from Zitzewitz, P (2001) Physics : Principles and Problems. McGraw-Hill
Media Used: 
DVD - Genius - Leonardo Da Vinci
Nasa - Shape Effects on Drag (
Significant Assignments: 

Three laboratory reports. The experiments all come from a subject suggested by Leonardo's work. The first on a full-class parachute project. The second on a small-group assignment on the development of, science behind, and testing of water shoes. The third laboratory report based on an individual project of the student's choosing.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Visits to the New York Hall of Science to the "Invention at Play: The Hall Explores the Playful Side of Invention and the Inventive Side of Play" exhibit.


The whole class studied force and drag created by air resistance in order to make predictions about the fall of the parachutes. We went on to look at floating and buoyancy. For the final project, the topics covered have been more varied. Students have looked at people's responses to rectangles drawn using the golden ratio, how blue shading affects the perception of depth, the effect of shape on acoustics, mirror-writing and mirror-reading, as well as more motion-based topics involving trebuchets and crossbows.

Sample PBATs: 
How does the ratio between the sides of a parachute with a rectangular profile affect the time and drift of its fall?
How does the level of blue in an image affect the perception of depth?
How does the type of scoop affect a trebuchet?
How does the stopping point of the arm affect a trebuchet?