When art meets science: "Turbulence as seen by Leonardo da Vinci"

To mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death in 2019, a team of Franco-Italian researchers specialising in fluid mechanics set out to retrace one of Leonardo's most famous drawings in the field of hydraulics. Read on to learn more about this original research project!

on June 21, 2021

Hydraulics was one of Leonardo's favoured areas of study, as evidenced by the many illustrations and studies on the subject in his notebooks (the famous Codex). In the fluid mechanics community, Leonardo da Vinci is considered to have been the first person to use the term 'turbulence', without really knowing what it was, even though he described some precise physical principles. More thorough understanding of turbulence was to come much later, from the end of the 19th century, notably with Reynolds, Taylor, Boussinesq, Kolmogorov and so on.

The team behind this research project, linking art and science, brought together researchers from the LHEEA - a Centrale Nantes / CNRS laboratory - under the direction of David Le Touzé, and researchers from the INM - a CNR (Italian National Research Council) institute - in Rome, under the direction of Andrea Colagrossi. These researchers have been working closely together since 2004. They are recognised worldwide for their expertise in the development of the Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics numerical method for free-surface flows (air/water interface). They have numerous high-level joint publications and two international awards to their name with regard to this method.

To commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the death of the Italian genius, the researchers started their work at very frontiers of the history of science, retracing the drawing's history and associated comments, with a view to determining the conditions of the experiment described by Leonardo da Vinci (location, dimensions, depth, etc.). As with the rest of Leonardo's work, the only source of information is that contained in the Codexes themselves and their interpretation (by E. Macagno in particular). The researchers therefore had to work iteratively to achieve simulations close to the reality observed by Leonardo da Vinci and ascertain that the main elements that he observed, and even intuited, (deep vortices, surface vortices, turbulence, recirculations) were produced by modern simulations.

Watch the story of their research process and results in the video "Turbulence as seen by Leonardo da Vinci":

Learn more:

In pictures:

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo da Vinci’s Studies of water (c.1510–12). The fall of a stream of water from a sluice into a pool. Bottom part of the sheet RCIN 912660 - The Windsor Collection And : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Etudes_turbulences_-_L%C3%A9onard_de_Vinci.jpg
Published on June 21, 2021 Updated on October 27, 2022