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HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

GEMINIANO MONTANARI (1633 - 1687)

Geminiano Montanari was born in Modena, Italy. His father died when Montanari was only ten years old and he was brought up by his mother. He seems to have been schooled in Salzburg until he entered the University of Florence to study law. He only remained in Florence for a few years, however, before he was forced to leave to escape the consequences of an imprudent affair! It appears that he returned to Salzburg to complete his degree in canon and civil law. It is documented that he also received degrees in philosophy and medicine but, although this may well be true, it is not clear where he studied for these qualifications.

Montanari practised law in Vienna for a few years before returning to Modena under the patronage of Duke Alfonso IV d’Este. He was appointed as court philosopher and mathematician. From here he moved to Bologna where he taught astronomy and mathematics at the university, and he enjoyed the patronage of Francesco II d’Este, Professor of Mathematics.

Geminiano Montanari

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Montanari maintained a firm experimental approach to astronomy. He improved the telescope by adding a devise that enabled the user to measure distances with better precision. Montanari is credited with discovering the variable star, Algol. Variable stars are stars that change in brightness, sometimes seeming to disappear completely and then getting brighter until they reach a maximum brightness before dimming again. In 1672, Montanari was using a star chart made by Bayer dating from 1603. He noticed that there was a star missing from the chart and entered it, assuming that Bayer had just missed it. Montanari then published his own star chart that, in 1702, was used by Giacomo Maraldi in Paris. Maraldi could not find this star, but he decided he would keep observing its marked position over a period of time. Over the next two years he saw the star appear, reaching its brightest state in 1704.

Geminiano Montanari was an extremely versatile researcher. Not only did he study variable stars and comets but he also worked on blood circulation and the possibility of blood transfusions. He studied sound and experimented with a megaphone. He also studied weather, using a barometer to measure altitude and predict weather conditions. Montanari was skilled in hydraulics and he spent the latter part of his life working in Venice, advising on the control of rivers and how to fortify the lagoon.

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