A 500-Year-Old ‘Paradox’ By Leonardo Da Vinci Has Finally Been Solved

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), 16th century (1849). Da Vinvi was an Italian artist, engineer, scientist and inventor whose drawings featured ideas such as a spinning wheel and a flying machine. He dissected human bodies which he used to produce accurate anatomical drawings, studied the properties of light and water and worked in Milan as an inspector of fortifications and later in Florence as a military engineer. A 19th century version based on an original 16th century Venetian engraving held by Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. From Le Moyen Age et la Renaissance, by Paul Lacroix, Ferdinand Séré and A Rivaud, Volume III (Paris, 1849). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

At a glance

  • More than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was watching air bubbles float up through water—as you do when you’re a Renaissance-era polymath—when he noticed that some bubbles inexplicably started spiraling or zigzagging instead of making a straight ascent to the surface.
  • For centuries, nobody has offered a satisfying explanation for this weird periodic deviation in the motion of some bubbles through water, which has been called “Leonardo’s paradox.”
  • Now, a pair of scientists think they may have finally solved the longstanding riddle by developing new simulations that match high-precision measurements of the effect, according to a study published on Tuesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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