Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Italian astronomer and mathematician.

Galileo enrolled at Pisa University in 1581 to study medicine but failed to complete the course, developing instead a passion for mathematics. He became Chair of Mathematics at Pisa University in 1589 and was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua in 1592.

Through a series of experiments in 1604, rolling balls down an inclined plane, Galileo deduced the law of falling bodies and showed that the speed with which bodies fall is independent of their weight. In 1609 he reinvented the refracting telescope leading to numerous astronomical findings, which he published in Siderius Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger).

Galileo supported Nicolaus Copernicus's (1473-1543) view of a sun-centred solar system, which brought him into direct opposition with the church and led in 1633 to his imprisonment. Confined to his villa under house arrest, Galileo died at Arcetri on 8 January 1642.