How to Build Leonardo da Vinci’s Ingenious Self-Supporting Bridge: Renaissance Innovations You Can Still Enjoy Today

Leonardo da Vinci, the most accomplished example of the polymathic, artist-engineer "Renaissance man," came up with an astonishing number of inventions great and small in the late 15th and early 16th century, from the helicopter to the musical viola organista, the tank to the automated bobbin winder. Even the devices he was born too late to invent, he improved: humans had crossed the humble bridge, for instance, for countless centuries, but then Leonardo created a new, self-supporting variety whose design, as followed by a kid and his dad in the video above, still impresses today.

"With a series of wooden poles and beams, 'Stick-Boy' shows his Dad how to build Leonardo da Vinci‘s self-supporting arch bridge, also known as the emergency bridge," say the description by Rion Nakaya at The Kid Should See This. "No nails, screws, rope, glues, notches, or other fasteners are holding the bridge in place… just friction and gravity."

Clearly it works, but how? According to a post at the blog ArchiScriptor on self-supporting structures, all such bridges, from Leonardo's on down, really do rely on only those two forces. "Notches in the members make it easier to construct, but strictly speaking aren’t necessary as long as there is some friction. Gravity will do the rest."

Leonardo, the post continues, "explored two forms of the structure – a bridge and a dome. His work was commissioned by the Borgia family, with the mandate to design light and strong structures which could be built and taken down quickly. This was to aid them in their constant struggle for power with the Medici family in Renaissance Italy." The site of the Leonardo3 Museum adds, "we do not know whether this bridge was ever put to practical use, but it is not hard to believe that such a modular construction, extremely easy to transport and to assemble, must have met with great favor from the Renaissance lords who were always on the lookout for new technologies to put to military use."

Leonardo himself called this "the bridge of safety," and it counts as only one of the ingenious bridges he designed in his lifetime. For the Duke Sforza he also invented several others including a revolving bridge which, according to Leonardo da Vinci Inventions, "could be quickly packed up and transported for use by armies on the move to pass over bodies of water," could "swing across a stream or moat and set down on the other side so that soldiers could pass with little trouble," and "incorporated a rope-and-pulley system for both quick employment and easy transport." All useful tools indeed for those who once sought military dominance in Italy, but even more beneficial as inspiration for the Renaissance boys and girls of the 21st century.

via The Kid Should See This

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Pioneering Physics TV Show, The Mechanical Universe, Is Now on YouTube: 52 Complete Episodes from Caltech

In December, Caltech announced that the critically acclaimed TV series, The Mechanical Universe… And Beyond, has been made available in its entirety on YouTube. Created at Caltech and aired on PBS from 1985-86, the 52-episode series offers an introduction to college-level physics, covering everything from the scientific revolution begun by Copernicus, to quantum theory. A university web page offers more details on the production:

The series was based on the Physics 1a and 1b courses developed by David Goodstein, the Frank J. Gilloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Emeritus.

Each episode opens and closes with Goodstein lecturing to his freshman physics class in 201 E. Bridge, providing philosophical, historical, and often humorous insight into the day's topic. The show also contains hundreds of computer animation segments, created by JPL computer graphics engineer James F. Blinn, as the primary tool of instruction. Dynamic location footage and historical re-creations are also used to stress the fact that science is a human endeavor...

Although the series was designed as a college-level course, "thousands of high school teachers across the US came to depend on it for instructional and inspirational use," Goodstein says. "The level of instruction in the US was, and remains, abysmally low, and these 52 programs filled a great void."

You can stream all 52 episodes above. Or find them on Youtube and DailyMotion. They will also be added to our collection of Free Online Physics Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Visit this Caltech website to get more information on the show.

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The Famous Schrodinger’s Cat Thought Experiment Gets Brought to Life in an Off-Kilter Animation

Schrödinger's Cat is one of the more famous thought experiments in modern physics, created by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger back in 1935.  The Telegraph summarizes the gist of the experiment as follows:

In the hypothetical experiment ... a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive sample, a Geiger counter and a bottle of poison.

If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive material has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed.

The experiment was designed to illustrate the flaws of the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, which states that a particle exists in all states at once until observed.

If the Copenhagen interpretation suggests the radioactive material can have simultaneously decayed and not decayed in the sealed environment, then it follows the cat too is both alive and dead until the box is opened.

The University of Nottingham's Sixty Symbols YouTube channel provides a more complete explanation. But with or without any further introduction, you can watch the off-kilter animation, above, which imagines the origins of the original experiment. It was created by Chavdar Yordanov for an animation show in London.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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For Sale: The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind

Calling all parents with a hedge fund--or big trust fund. If you really love your kids (wink), you can let them play with the building blocks that once belonged to young Albert Einstein. According to Einstein's own sister, Albert used these blocks to build “complicated structures” during his childhood in Germany, sowing the seeds of his creativity. Now, after having been recently auctioned off by Einstein’s descendants, they're being sold online for $160,000--plus $3 shipping within the US). AbeBooks, the online vendor of rare books and ephemera--has a blog post with more information on this collectible.

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Watch 100 Randomly Ticking Metronomes Achieve Synchronicity

It’s always satisfying to impose order on chaos, especially if it doesn’t involve bellowing at a roomful of jacked up teenagers.

Witness the experiment above.

Members of Ikeguchi Laboratory, a Japanese organization dedicated to the analysis and prediction of nonlinear phenomena, placed 100 randomly ticking metronomes on a hanging platform, curious as to how long it would take them to synchronize.

(SPOILER ALERT! They start synching up around the 1 minute, 20 second mark.)

How? Why? Is this some mystical, musical variant of menstrual synchrony?

Nope. Physics is doing the heavy lifting here.

The key is that the platform holding the metronomes is not fixed. It affects their movement by moving in response to theirs.

To put it another way, KE = 0.5 • m • v2. Which is to say Kinetic Energy = 0.5 • mass of object • (speed of object)2.

If you're looking for another scientific explanation, here's how Gizmodo puts it: "the metronomes are transferring energy to the platform they’re on, which then transfers that energy back to the metronomes—until they all sync up and start hitting the beat in one glorious wavelength."

By the two and a half minute mark, some viewers will be raring to delve into further study of energy transference.

Others, their brains imploding, may elect to downshift into a purely auditory experience.

Close your eyes and listen as the last hold outs fall into rhythmic step with the rest of the herd. A pleasantly harmonious sound, not unlike that moment when a roomful of jacked up teens simmers down, achieving the sort of blissful hive mind that’s a balm to teacher’s frazzled soul.

Craving more?  Ikeguchi Laboratory also filmed their metronomes in triangular, circular and X-shaped formations, available for your viewing pleasure on the lab’s YouTube channel.

via The Kid Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

From Newton’s mechanical calculations to Einstein’s general and special relativity to the baffling indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, the discipline of physics has become increasingly arcane and complex, and less and less governed by orderly laws. This presents a problem for the layperson, who struggles to understand how Newtonian physics, with its predictable observations of physical forces, relates to the parallax and paradox of later discoveries. “If you don’t already know physics,” says physicist Dominic Walliman in the video above, it’s difficult sometimes to see how all of these different subjects are related to each other.” So Walliman has provided a helpful visual aid: an animated video map showing the connections between classical physics, quantum physics, and relativity.

Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation and his invention of calculus best represent the first domain. Here we see the inseparable relationship between physics and math, “the bedrock that the world of physics is built from.” When we come to one of Newton’s less well-known pursuits, optics, we see how his interest in light waves anticipated James Clerk Maxwell’s work on electromagnetic fields. After this initial connection, the proliferation of subdisciplines intensifies: fluid mechanics, chaos theory, thermodynamics... the guiding force of them all is the study of energy in various states. The heuristics of classical physics prevailed, and worked perfectly well, until about 1900, when the clockwork universe of Newtonian mechanics exploded with new problems, both at very large and very small levels of description.

It is here that physics branches into relativity and quantum mechanics, which Walliman explains in brief. While we are likely familiar with the very basics of Einstein’s relativity, quantum physics tends to get a little less coverage in the typical course of a general education, due to its complexity, perhaps, as well as the fact that at their edges, quantum explanations fail. While quantum field theory, says Walliman, is “the best description of the universe we have,” once we come to quantum gravitation, we reach “the giant Chasm of Ignorance" that speculative and controversial ideas like string theory and loop quantum gravity attempt to bridge.


At the “Chasm of Ignorance,” our journey through the domains of physics ends, and we end up back in the airy realm where it all began, philosophy. Those of us with a typical general education in the sciences may find that we have a much better understanding of the field’s intellectual geography. As a handy reminder, you might even wish to purchase a poster copy of Walliman’s Map of Physics, which you can see en miniature above. (It's also available as a digital download here.) Just below, the charming, laid-back physicist takes the stage in a TEDx talk to demonstrate effective science communication, explaining “quantum physics for 7 year olds,” or, as it were, 37, 57, or 77-year olds. To learn more about physics, please don't miss these essential resources in our archive: Free Online Physics Courses and Free Physics Textbooks

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Physics of Playing a Guitar Visualized: Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” Viewed from Inside the Guitar

Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed. While the first 30 seconds of the video above may resemble an amateur iPhone prank, it soon becomes something unexpectedly enchanting—a visualization of the physics of music in real-time. The Youtuber places his phone inside an acoustic guitar, then plays Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters" against a backdrop of clouds and blue sky. Due to what Twisted Sifter identifies as the phone camera’s rolling shutter effect, the actual waves of the vibrating guitar strings are as clearly visible as if they were on an oscilloscope.

The comparison is an apt one, since we might use exactly such a device to measure and visualize the acoustic properties of stringed instruments. “A guitar string”---writes physicist and musician Sam Hokin in his short explanation---is a common example of a string fixed at both ends which is elastic and can vibrate. The vibrations of such a string are called standing waves, and they satisfy the relationship between wavelength and frequency that comes from the definition of waves.”

Those with a physics background might appreciate The Physics Classroom's technical description of guitar string vibration, with several technical diagrams. For others, the video above by Youtube physics teacher Doc Shuster may be a better format. Shuster explains such entities as nodes and antinodes (you’ll have to tell me if you get any of his jokes). And at about 2:25, he digresses from his musings on these phenomena to talk about guitar strings specifically, which “make one note for a given tightness of the string, a given weight of the string, and a given length of the string.”

This is, of course, why changing the length of the string by pressing down on it changes the note the string produces, and it applies to all stringed instruments and the piano. Other factors, says Shuster, like the body of the guitar, use of pickups, etc., have a much smaller effect on the frequency of a guitar string than tightness, weight, and length. We see how the complexity of different standing wave forms relates to harmonics (or overtones). And when we return to the Metallica video at the top, we'll have a better understanding of how the strings vibrate differently as they produce different frequencies at different harmonics.

Shuster’s video quickly lapses into calculus, and you may or may not be lost by his explanations. The Physics Classroom has some excellent, free tutorials on various types of waves, pitch frequency, vibration, and resonance. Perhaps all we need to keep in mind to understand the very basics of the science is this, from their introduction: “As a guitar string vibrates, it sets surrounding air molecules into vibrational motion. The frequency at which these air molecules vibrate is equal to the frequency of vibration of the guitar string.” The action of the string produces an equal and opposite reaction in the air, which then creates “a pressure wave which travels outward from its source.” The pressure waves strike our eardrums, our brains interpret sound, and there you have it.

via Twisted Sifter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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