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Leonardo da Vinci in Texas

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Taking flight with Leonardo's invention Taking flight with Leonardo's invention

The inventive genius of Leonardo da Vinci is currently on display at the Texas Museum of Science. While he is best known as the painter of the Mona Lisa, and his name has been famously co-opted by the da Vinci Code, his most lasting legacy is in the field of engineering.

Even though most of his inventions never left the pages of his notebooks, they were re-created several years ago in Italy. This impressive suite of models was later acquired by a firm in San Antonio, which places it in different venues throughout the year. The signage of the exhibit is in English and Spanish, as the exhibit is quite popular in Mexico.

The lead photo shows Leonardo's concept for a hang glider, where the pilot could adjust the angles of the outer portions of the wings via a system of ropes and pulleys.

Leonardo's concept for a battlefield tankLeonardo's concept for a battlefield tankMany of the models rely on ropes and pulleys for a wide variety of potential uses, but the centrepiece of the exhibit is a prototype tank for use on the battlefield. It looks a bit like a wooden UFO. Visitors can enter and see the portals above where lookouts could spy potential targets for the cannons mounted below. In reality it was never built, but tanks did become a lethal reality a hundred years ago in World War I.


Fans of Star Wars will especially enjoy the grandfather of C3PO. At first glance it looks like just a suit of armor, but wait a while and a panel on its chest opens to reveal a series of spinning wheels. The suit of armor then moves, seemingly by magic. This first design for a humanoid robot was certainly his most fanciful creation, as there was no obvious way to power it 500 years ago although there is speculation he envisaged making it move by some use of water or weights.

The main display space of the Texas Museum of Science and Technology is devoted to the Leonardo exhibit, which is on display until late January 2018. Well worth the trip to Cedar Park, a small town north of Austin.

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Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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