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Out of the Shadows
Galileo was one of the most important figures of the last millennium. For one year, the University of Oklahoma celebrates the father of modern science with a monumental exhibition.
By Nathan Gunter
Published January/February 2016
It’s game day in Norman. Bob Stoops and the Sooners are in the locker room, preparing for what will be a blowout 63-27 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Outside, the air is rich with the smell of grilled meat, the sound of loud voices, and the electricity of a home game. A sea of people arrayed in shades of crimson and cream wander the campus of the University of Oklahoma, moving from the festivities at Campus Corner toward the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, where kickoff is at 2:30. Every few seconds, a fan shouts “Boomer!” and the crowd responds religiously, “Sooner!”
It’s quieter in the lobby of the Bizzell Memorial Library, where nine-year-old Robert Kalsu of Oklahoma City is shifting his gaze down a scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to a big red button in front of him. At the top of the tower, two balls—one made of Lucite and weighing 262 grams, one made of steel and weighing 354—emerge onto a platform.
“Robert, make the steel ball drop first,” Robert’s dad, Bob, teases him. “Do it! Hit it like you mean it!”
Robert hits the red button. The balls drop. There’s a bang as they hit the ground at the same instant. Amanda Martinez, a senior in OU’s College of Engineering, steps up to explain what just happened.
“This experiment is based on the story of Galileo atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” she says. “They say he dropped two cannonballs of the same size but different masses, and they hit the ground at the same time.”
Galileo’s experiment proved something crucial about gravity: Namely, that it acts the same on objects of different weights and compositions. A small monitor near the tower shows the two balls hit the ground nearly simultaneously—there was only a margin of error of one one-hundredth of a second.
“It was supposed to be even,” Bob Kalsu jokes with his son. “Hit it better next time!”
The Kalsu family makes their way out of the library and toward the stadium. Later, when young Robert watches Baker Mayfield pass for 212 yards against the Red Raiders, will he see the ball spiral through the air toward a receiver and wonder, as Galileo might have, about the unseen force pulling it back toward the ground?
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Get There: Galileo’s World runs through August 2016 and features exhibitions across the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus including the Bizzell Memorial Library, National Weather Center, Sam Noble Museum, and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art; and the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Galileo’s World: An Artful Observation of the Cosmos opens to the public with a free reception Tuesday, January 21 and is on display through April 3. Visit galileo.ou.edu for a complete list of exhibits and events and to view high-resolution images from the History of Science Collections.