The Beauty of Diagrams
Series in which mathematician Marcus du Sautoy explores the stories behind some of the most familiar scientific diagrams.
Vitruvian Man – He looks at Leonardo da Vinci’s world-famous diagram of the perfect human body, which has many layers from anatomy to architecture, and defines our species like no other drawing before or since.
The Vitruvian Man, drawn in the 1480s when he was living and working in Milan, has become one of the most famous images in the world.
Leonardo’s drawings form a vast body of work, covering every imaginable subject in spectacular detail: from feet, skulls and hands to muscles and sinews; from hearts and lungs to buildings, bridges and flying machines.
Copernicus – When Polish priest and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus developed his extraordinary theory of a sun-centered universe 500 years ago, he was flying in the face of both science and religion. Mankind had believed for thousands of years that the earth was at the center of the cosmos, and to disagree was to risk derision and accusations of heresy.
Newton’s Prism – In the mid-1660s, Isaac Newton bought a pair of prisms at a fair near Cambridge, which were to be the basis of a series of experiments that would unlock a secret that had occupied scientists for centuries – the nature of light itself.
To explain what he had done, Newton created a diagram. It is called The Crucial Experiment and is a pivotal image in scientific history, a graphic moment when the ancient world was overturned by modern science. Newton demonstrated that white light is not pure, but made up of a number of different colors, the colors of the rainbow.
Florence Nightingale – Can a diagram save lives? Florence Nightingale is best known as the Lady of the Lamp, who cared for thousands of soldiers in appalling conditions during the Crimean War of 1854-6. What is less well-known is that she was a superb statistician, and the first to use a statistical graphic as a call to action.
After the war, Nightingale wrote a passionate report on why the soldiers had died in such large numbers and it revealed the astonishing fact that out of 18,000 deaths, 16,000 had been due to infectious diseases in hospital rather than battle wounds.
Watch the full documentary now (playlist)