Ancient da Vinci Notebook Found to Contain First Known Records of the Laws of Friction

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous painters in history, but a new discovery shows the Italian artist also knew a thing or two (or twenty) about science. In fact, after a professor took a deep dive into da Vinci’s notebook, he discovered the first written records demonstrating the laws of friction. 

Nearly 100 years ago, a museum director brushed off da Vinci’s notebook as full of irrelevant notes and diagrams. But in 2016, University of Cambridge professor Ian Hutchings proved that a second set of eyes pays off. While it was common knowledge that da Vinci conducted the first friction study, nobody quite knew the details. Hutchings carefully examined da Vinci’s minuscule 1493 notebook and was shocked at its contents.

Just below a pencil sketch of an older woman many speculate to be Helen of Troy, an interesting drawing depicts rows of blocks being pulled by a weight that’s hanging over a pulley. The diagram clearly demonstrated the laws of friction.

Hutchings explained that da Vinci obviously understood that “the force of friction acting between two sliding surfaces is proportional to the load pressing the surfaces together, and that friction is independent of the apparent area of contact between the two surfaces.”

da Vinci clearly understood all this more than 500 years ago—well before most people believe the laws of friction were first discovered.

That credit has often been bestowed upon French scientist Guillaume Amontons. While he may have rediscovered the laws during his work in the 1600s, da Vinci’s notebook proves he was the first to figure out friction.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Of course, his discoveries didn’t stop there. da Vinci studied tribology (the study of “the design, friction, wear, and lubrication of interacting surfaces in relative motion”) for two decades and contributed many sketches of complex machinery and friction’s impact on wheels, axels, screw threads and pulleys.

Professor Hutchings’ discovery just reinforces that da Vinci was pretty clearly one of the smartest people to ever live.