da Vinci: Artist. Engineer. Scientist. Thinker.

Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man, simultaneously pursuing painting, sculpting, experimenting, and inventing. Famous for creating “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” he also drew detailed sketches of ingenious machines that were centuries ahead of their time, including the helicopter, parachute, and armored tank.

After careful observation, da Vinci became convinced that the most efficient answer to any problem could be found in nature. He studied objects in nature and carefully recorded his observations, seeking to understand how, for example, a bird flies. He compared one natural phenomenon to another, and conducted experiments to test his hypotheses.

Some of da Vinci’s machines, such as his flying machine, could never work. However, he calculated fairly accurately the wing size needed to support a person in flight and drew a sketch similar to a modern hang glider. Other devices, such as the odometer, introduced a concept for measuring distance traveled that today’s automobile odometers still use.

We know about da Vinci’s inventions and ideas because he documented much of his thinking on paper. He filled thousands of pages – some in notebooks, others on loose-leaf sheets – with drawings, records of observations, and results of experiments.

The exhibit features 16 models of da Vinci’s machines, including his flying machine, parachute, printing press, odometer, and hydraulic screw. The exhibit also gives a nod to da Vinci’s art with a space for visitors to draw their own masterpieces as well as his unique style of note taking. Da Vinci was left-handed and found it easier to write from right to left, so he wrote in mirror script.

The da Vinci exhibit is part of the MOST’s permanent collection and is located in the Horowitz Traveling Exhibit Area.