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Da Vinci ideas take flight; Designs, machines at Science Museum

When thinking about Leonardo da Vinci, it's easy to picture his world famous paintings like the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper."

But da Vinci was so much more than an artist. He was a master of many crafts, a visionary whose ingenious concepts and designs spawned future inventions, many of which are still in use today.

Many of these designs are on display at the Buffalo Museum of Science in an interactive exhibit called "Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion." The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 24, features 40 life-size, fully operational machines designed by Leonardo and handcrafted according to his manuscripts, using materials that were available during his era.

It was created in Florence, Italy, by Worldwide Museum Activities and organized by Evergreen Exhibitions, a traveling museum provider.

"His inventions have served as the foundation for modern-day engineering," said Mark Mortenson, president and chief executive officer of the Museum of Science. "What's nice is that most of these pieces can be manipulated so people can actually see how they work."

For museum visitors Lois Anne Reitz and her sister, Lynn Scarpine, the exhibit gives insight into the mind of one of the most imaginative thinkers in history.

"He was so ahead of his time," Scarpine said. "To be able to go around and touch these things and see firsthand what Leonardo was thinking is just amazing."

Reitz graduated from Alfred State College with a bachelor's degree in art history and lives in Maine with her husband, Jim. Every time they come back to visit family, she said, they always come to Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Science Museum.

"I think it's fascinating," Reitz said. "I've been intrigued with Leonardo's notebooks ever since I first heard about them in high school."

The machines, which are categorized by air, water, earth and fire, allow visitors to experience the way da Vinci used the elements to produce his ideas.

Da Vinci was infatuated with flight, so some of the most captivating displays are those associated with flying, including the parachute and the vertical ornithopter, which involves flapping wings.

Other awe-inspiring concepts among the dozens on display are the revolving crane, pillar lifter and what might be the design of the first robot.

"He put an extraordinary amount of detail into everything he did," Mortenson said. "His powers of observation were tremendous."

No invention, however, stands out like the massive armored tank in the center of the exhibit. Featuring a solid wood exterior that houses several cannons and moves by a series of steel cranks and gears, the tank puts the life and times of da Vinci into perspective.

"There was a lot of conflict during the time he lived," Mortenson said. "Many of these machines were invented out of necessity."

Since the Museum of Science is a popular field-trip destination for area schools and children's programs, this exhibit welcomes children and allows them to take a hands-on approach to learning about da Vinci and the basic principles of engineering, including the chain drive, ball bearings and worm gears.

e-mail: emazzu@buffnews.com

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