Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I'm currently reading Melanie Mitchell's book, "Complexity: A guided tour." In the second chapter, where she begins explaining the historical underpinnings of the field of dynamics, she touches on the important contributions made to the field by Galileo in his attempt to use an experimental approach to answer questions about motion: rolling balls down inclines planes, pendula, etc.

I have a personal history with Galileo, which dates back to a 3rd grade book report. I chose to do my science report on Galileo, not knowing in advance about the controversy of his Copernican views. To my 3rd grade mind, the accusations of heresy and house arrest by the Catholic church were a juicy scandal. I think I was also amused by his redundant name: Galileo Galilei.

Fast forward to 2008. My parents took me to Italy to celebrate finishing my master's thesis (I still had to return home to defend). While we were there, my dad looked up an old friend of his: Franco Pacini. My dad had officiated Franco's marriage while Franco was a post-doc at Cornell. In between prank calls to his former landlords in Ithaca, Franco took us up to the hills surrounding Florence, to the neighborhood known as Arcetri. As a member of the University of Firenze's astronomy department, Franco had the key to the private villa which belonged in Galileo and where he served his house arrest from 1634 until his death in 1642. We toured the villa, including visiting the yard where I had imagined all of those years before that Galileo had spent his evenings gazing through his telescopes and figuring out the motion of the planets. We also toured Galileo's enormous wine cellar, which thoroughly amused me. Galileo's wine cellar!

Here are some photos.
The courtyard:

Franco unlocking the front door:

Descending to the wine cellar:

Galileo had a sweet view of the city. Not such a bad spot to spend 8 years under house arrest: