Evangelista Torricelli: Discoveries, Inventions & Accomplishments

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Though he lived a short life, Evangelista Torricelli left a lasting impact on the world. In this lesson we'll take a look at some of his accomplishments, inventions, and contributions, as well as learn about his life in general.

Torricelli's Life

The next time the meteorologist on the news tells you what the barometric pressure is you should give a shout-out to Evangelista Torricelli. Torricelli was an Italian physicist and mathematician that lived from 1608 to 1647. Not much is known about Torricelli's life, but we do know that his family was poor, his father was a textile worker, he had two younger brothers, his uncle was a Camaldolese monk, and that he was provided a good education.

Even from a young age it was clear to his parents that Torricelli was intelligent and talented, so they sent him to live with his uncle where he was educated until he went to a Jesuit college in 1624. Though it is not known for sure which college he attended, it is known that he studied math and philosophy.

Evangelista Torricelli
evangelista torricelli

Torricelli was a big fan of Galileo and read all of his books. Serendipitously, Galileo wrote a letter to Benedetto Castelli, with whom Torricelli was studying. Castelli was away, so Torricelli responded to the letter and seized the opportunity to tell Galileo how much he admired his work and share some of his own theories. This impressed Galileo and Torricelli was invited to become his assistant. A while later Torricelli accepted this invitation, but unfortunately, Galileo died only three months after Torricelli started. It worked out for Torricelli though, as Grand Duke Ferdinando II of Tuscany appointed him to Galileo's former position of court mathematician and philosopher.

Torricelli's Inventions and Contributions

There's no doubt that Torricelli was a very smart man. For example, he was the first person to create a sustained vacuum. Until this point, vacuums could not be confirmed, but Torricelli set up an experiment that changed everything. What he did was this: he inverted a four-foot long glass tube filled with mercury into a dish, and noticed that while some of the mercury flowed out of the tube into the dish, some of it stayed in the tube. The space above the remaining mercury created an observable vacuum!

Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer, an instrument that reads atmospheric pressure

He also noticed that the amount of mercury in the tube varied from day to day and concluded that this was caused by changes in atmospheric pressure. In other words, the force of the atmosphere pushing down on the liquid outside of the tube is the same as the force of the mercury pushing down on the inside of the tube. Ta da! Torricelli essentially invented the first barometer, an instrument that reads atmospheric pressure! The name 'barometer' comes from the Greek 'baros', which means 'weight', and which accurately describes how the weight of the atmosphere changes the amount of mercury inside the tube. And the 'Torr' unit of pressure is named after Torricelli.

Torricelli is also credited with having a major influence on integral calculus. He had a strong interest in geometry, eventually leading him to formulate Torricelli's theorem, which states that the flow of a liquid through an opening is proportional to the square root of the height of the liquid.

Torricelli was interested in curves and arcs, including those of fluids
milk being poured from a bottle

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