Who is The First? Leonardo da Vinci!

Leonardo da Vinci Forster III 72r

Leonardo da Vinci Forster III 72r

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, the famous Italian engineer, architect, painter, musician, mathematician can also be considered as The First Tribologist! Although the term itself was invented approximately 450 years after Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), he was the first one to perform the systematic study on friction, as pointed out by Professor Ian Hutchings. His sketches are widely known among tribologists and Vitruvian Man by da Vinci can be recognized in the logo of tribonet.

In a recent paper in a Wear journal, after a thorough examination of the widely dispersed across Europe ‘mirror writing’ notes and puzzling sketches of Leonardo, Dr. Hutchings concluded that the results achieved almost 500 years ago were outstanding. Extraordinary inventor Leonardo by 1943 had not only understood, but also applied the fundamental laws of friction (currently known as Amontons) to the solution of practical problems. Remarkably sophisticated, Leonardo’s understanding of friction included the appreciation of the influence of the materials and the lubrication state on the friction coefficient and the values of  1/2, 1/3, 1/4 and  1/8 were encountered in his notes.

Having analyzed the notebooks, Professor Hutchings concludes that Leonardo’s interest and understanding of friction was deep-rooted and more sophisticated than it was suggested. Despite the fact, that these notes remained unknown until relatively recently, Leonardo da Vinci is a remarkable pioneer of tribogoly, The First Tribologist!

Many tribologists are not aware of the great interest of Leonardo’s work and more interesting facts, sources and findings can be found in the original paper: Leonardo da Vinci׳s studies of friction, Ian M. Hutchings.


Credit for image: www.newtonsapple.org.uk

Founder of TriboNet, Editor, PhD (Tribology), Tribology Scientist at ASML, The Netherlands. Expertise in lubrication, friction, wear and contact mechanics with emphasis on modeling. Creator of Tribology Simulator.


  1. Actually, the Egyptians have Leonardo beat by quite a few years!

    Ans Hekkenberg and other researchers from the University of Amsterdam and the FOM (Fundamental Research on Matter) Foundation recently recreated (in the lab) the tribological method used by the ancient Egyptians to move the stones of the great pyramids.

    In primitive but truly ingenuous fashion, the Egyptians poured liquid on the sand in front of the sleds carrying the massive stones. The researchers found that the “pulling force” decreased proportionally to the resulting stiffness of the wet sand.

    See “Ancient Egyptians transported pyramid stones over wet sand,” Physical Review Letters (Online), 29 April 2014.

    No disrespect to genius Leonardo intended.

  2. There were also some tribology applications for moving large stones in China. I find it to be an interesting topic, the history of tribology. Dr. Hutchings also informed that there will be another paper coming regarding this topic!

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