Happy birthday, dear Galileo!
Today, one of history's most prolific scientists and mathematicians, Galileo Galilei, would be 449 years old. Galileo was an equal-opportunity STEM achiever, working in pure and applied science and mathematics. He discovered Jovian moons and improved a new invention called the telescope. He championed heliocentrism, and invented the compass.
The son of a well-known lutenist and music theoretician, Galileo grew up in Florence and Pisa, and was educated at a monastery and the University of Pisa. Although his father originally wanted him to study medicine, he discovered geometry, and the rest was history. He studied physics and mathematics, and In one famous thought experiment, he imagined dropping objects of different masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to prove that objects fall and accelerate at the same rate. After hearing about the invention of a telescope, he immediately invented a new, improved version. Eventually, using evidence gathered with the telescope, he supported the Copernican theory that the sun sat in the center of the universe.
This belief -- as well as the brashness with which he presented it -- eventually landed him in hot water. In 1616, he was prohibited by Church authority from speaking out about Copernican theory. As a strict Catholic, he abided by that rule. In 1623, though, when Pope Urban -- whom he considered a friend -- was appointed, Urban allowed him to write about astronomy, provided it was objective and didn't advocate. However, the piece that came about, Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was anything but objective, and Galileo was put on trial for heresy and sentenced to house arrest. He spent nine years under house arrest, defying the church's orders that he not have visitors nor publish any original scientific work, and died in 1642.
Galileo's inventions and discoveries have withstood the test of time. His work in motion and mechanics set the stage for later thinkers like Isaac Newton. He was one of the first to find order in the natural world, and many consider him the father of modern science.