Foucault's scientific triumph
<B>Foucault's scientific triumph</B>Charged with heresy, the 70-year-old Galileo knelt in front of church officials, said the Earth was fixed and immobile and apologized for writing otherwise. Then, as he arose in what might be an apocryphal story he looked to the floor and mumbled, "<I>Eppur si muove</I> (And yet it does move)." Galileo's problem was that neither he nor anyone else could prove that the Earth rotates. That proof did not come until more than two centuries later in the work of LÅ½on Foucault.
In <B>Pendulum: LÅ½on Foucault and the Triumph of Science</B>, author Amir D. Aczel recreates the drama of the day in 1851 when Foucault attached a 61-pound brass ball to a 271-foot wire suspended from the dome of the PanthÅ½on in Paris. As the ball swung, a pin attached to its underside traced a line in wet sand on the floor. On subsequent swings, the pin traced different lines, each less than one-twentieth of an inch from the previous one. Ultimately, the pin created lines in all directions. Why? The only possible reason was that the sand-covered floor itself (thus the Earth) was rotating irrefutable, visible proof that the world does turn.
The story of Foucault is more than the story of a self-trained scientist who upset centuries of Roman Catholic belief. It also is a very human story of a man angered because, although his work brought honors from other groups, his jealous contemporaries denied him membership in the elite French Academy of Sciences. Aczel, a mathematician whose previous books include <I>The Riddle of the Compass</I>, now has given us a remarkable story of a long-frustrated genius. Foucault's life and legacy are of such magnitude that this book will reward its readers and likely will stun many of them into wondering: "Why haven't I heard of this man before?"