Today in eco-history: Leonardo da Vinci born

On this day in 1453, Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci, Italy. A scientist, engineer, and artist who is often called the exemplary “Renaissance Man,” he was reknowned not only for his paintings, but in the fields of civil engineering, chemistry, geology, geometry, hydrodynamics, physics, pyrotechnics, and zoology.

Some of these areas represented some of the first forays into issues with positive implications for the environment, such as his examination of the use of concentrated solar power. Indeed, da Vinci was the first and only person of his time to seriously study the matter, including making sketches and designing techniques for harnessing solar energy. In particular, he utilized solar energy to heat things by making “burning mirrors” – round mirrors that would concentrate the sun’s light on a specific source. He wrote extensively about optics and burning mirrors, their mathematical calculation, and their manufacture.

Models of da Vinci’s designs are on display today at the Château du Clos Lucé, the place in Amboise, France where he resided between 1516 and 1519.

Photo: One of da Vinci’s sketches featuring a machine for grinding convex lenses, which were used in early burning mirrors. Wikipedia (CC)


Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. In 2015, he received an award from the Illinois Woman's Press Association for his coverage of the People's Climate March in New York. As production manager, he is also responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page.

He grew up in Garfield, New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, good books, music, and nature - especially long hikes in the woods. He currently lives in Chicago. He writes a blog that can be found at