Person: Borelli, Giovanni Alfonso
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli was an Italian Italian physiologist and physicist who was the first to explain muscular movement and other body functions according to the laws of statics and dynamics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The first obvious question must be to ask about the name Borelli.
- The Spanish soldiers were stationed in the three forts of Naples, the Castel Sant'Elmo, the Castel dell'Ovo, and the Castel Nuovo where Miguel Alonso was when Giovanni was born.
- We will see below why, later in his life, Giovanni wanted to change his name.
- It is likely that Borelli was one of these students.
- It is also likely, but not certain, that Borelli attended medical lectures at the University of Naples.
- No record of his attendance exists, but being a student of Campanella and also attending the university would explain Borelli's educational standards when he went to Rome in around 1628 - he was about 20 years of age.
- We mentioned at the beginning of this article that Borelli changed his name.
- It must have been around this time that Borelli arrived in Rome and was introduced by Campanella to Benedetto Antonio Castelli who had come to Rome after being professor of mathematics at Pisa.
- Borelli also got to know another of Castelli's students, Evangelista Torricelli, who at this time was acting as a secretary to Castelli.
- Both Torricelli and Castelli were supporters of Galileo so 1632-33 must have been a difficult time for Borelli seeing the Inquisition banning Galileo's works and putting him on trial.
- Giovanni Alfonso Borelli remained in Rome gaining a reputation as an exceptionally good mathematician.
- Borelli was appointed as a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Messina in Sicily after being recommended by Castelli.
- Borelli was appointed before 1637, the year in which he climbed Mount Etna, but his name only appears in the university records from 1639 when he was promoted to the chair of mathematics.
- Certainly Borelli quickly gained a reputation as a leading scholar, although at this stage he still had no publications, and he became a member of the Accademia della Fucina, an academy founded in 1639 in Messina.
- The most famous Sicilian mathematician had been Francesco Maurolico who had died more than 30 years before Borelli was born.
- Borelli became interested in these unpublished manuscripts left by Maurolico and began to edit them with the intention of having them published.
- Castelli proposed that Borelli be appointed to the chair in Pisa but the position went to Vincenzo Renieri (1606-1647), a friend and supporter of Galileo.
- However, the Senate of Messina was delighted to have such an outstanding scholar as Borelli at their university and in late 1641 they sent him on a long trip with the aim of recruiting top class academics for the University of Messina, particularly in law and medicine.
- Borelli visited Naples and Rome, where he renewed his acquaintance with his former teacher Castelli.
- Borelli visited Florence where he met Vincenzo Viviani who had been with Galileo up to the time of his death.
- Leaving Florence, Borelli went on to Bologna where he had useful discussions with the professor of mathematics, Bonaventura Cavalieri.
- The trip enhanced Borelli's reputation for he had shown great learning in his discussions with the leading academics and princes.
- Daniele Spinola and Pietro Emmanuele both gave solutions to the problem and Borelli was asked to judge.
- Although Borelli was critical of both solutions, he preferred that of Spinola and this led to an argument which became very heated.
- Borelli published Discorso del Signor Gio: Alfonso Borelli, accademico della Fucina e professore delle scienze matematiche nello Studio della nobile città di Messina, nel quale si manifestano le falsità, e gli errori, contenuti nella difesa del Problema Geometrico, risoluto dal R D Pietro Emmanuele Ⓣ(Discourse of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, academician of Fucina and professor of mathematical sciences in the study of the noble city of Messina, which shows errors and mistakes contained in solution of a geometric problem by Pietro Emmanuele) (1646).
- Borelli's next paper was written following an epidemic of a malignant fever which depopulated much of Sicily in 1647-48.
- in his investigations regarding the cause and the spread of the disease, Borelli travelled to several other Sicilian cities and accumulated quite a few notes from autopsies.
- As a result of this accumulation of data, authors such as Gustavo Barbensi consider Borelli as 'the person who introduced the experimental method in the study of living matter, in particular physiology'.
- Accordingly they made inquiries concerning Borelli and received strong endorsements for him as the best mathematician in Italy after Cavalieri.
- They also learned that Borelli was a trifle capricious and had a leaning toward the "moderns," Copernicus and Galileo.
- Whether or not this latter was a factor, Borelli was passed over and the chair went to Giovanni Domenico Cassini.
- Borelli remained in Messina, and he was still there in 1654 when, after many years, he saw Maurolico's Emendatio et restitutio conicorum Apollonii Pergaei Ⓣ(Correction and restoration of 'Conics' by Apollonius of Perga) through the publication process.
- Borelli had long wanted to leave Sicily and, after the failed attempts we described above, he was eventually successful in February 1656 when he was appointed to the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa.
- This was an attempt by Borelli to present the material in Euclid's Elements in a clearer manner.
- Another project came Borelli's way soon after he arrived in Pisa.
- Borelli could not read Arabic, but his work with the Maurolico restoration allowed him, from the figures in the text, to realise that the manuscript contained an Arabic translation of books 5, 6 and 7 of the Apollonius's Conics which up to that time had been lost.
- Abraham Ecchellensis assisted with the Latin and J A Borelli dealt with the geometry) (Florence, 1661).
- A comet appeared towards the end of 1664 and Borelli made continuous observations of it.
- Motivated by his interest in the comet, Borelli established an observatory in the fortress of San Miniato in the summer of 1665.
- Besides providing a mathematical account of such curves based on the 'Conics' by Apollonius, Borelli was able to explain some of the actions at play on the basis of ingenious physical, magnetic and mechanical reflections and experiments.
- The breakthrough that Borelli made here was to take Galileo's terrestrial mechanics and extend their principles to astronomy; despite his major contributions to both mechanics and astronomy, Galileo had never thought to combine the two.
- We know that Newton owned a copy of this work by Borelli and he made several references to it.
- Of course, although Borelli must have helped Newton in moving towards his theory of gravitation, on the other hand the publication of Newton's Principia twenty years later completely overshadowed Borelli's masterpiece.
- In this text Borelli says that it will surprise some that he has published an astronomy text when it is well known that for years he has been working on anatomy, particularly studying the motion of animals.
- Influenced by Malpighi, Borelli began making biomechanical experiments.
- The Accademia del Cimento, although never formally closed down, ceased to operate when Borelli left Pisa.
- In 1672 the Spanish rulers decided to move against those they knew to be working against them and they sought to arrest Borelli.
- Never one to do nothing, Borelli still made use of his mathematical talents by teaching mathematics at the Scuole Pie di San Pantaleo.
- Borelli dedicated to work to her, but he died of pneumonia before the work was through the press.
- This allowed Borelli to calculate the movements of the fibres on the basis of Euclidean proportion theory.
- In 1984 the American Society of Biomechanics named its the most prestigious honour the 'Giovanni Borelli Award'.
Born 28 January 1608, Naples, Kingdom of Naples (now Italy). Died 31 December 1679, Rome, Papal States (now Italy).
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Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Italy
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive