Description of Leonardo's Universe and Biographical sketch of Butent Atenay

Leonardo is known as a supreme artist, the creator of the two most famous works in the history of art. What is less well known is that he was only a part-time artist. His relentless curiosity to understand the world drove him to study nature, make careful observations, seek mathematical proofs, and record all his findings. Some of his discoveries prefigured achievements we associate with Galileo, Newton and Darwin. He even prefigured entire sciences not to be formally invented for centuries. With unrivaled drafting skills, he created mechanical drawings for future technology, and anatomical studies that would never be equaled. But then, when he created his miraculous paintings, he imbued them with his scientific passions — his intuitive knowledge of optics, geology, hydrology and mathematics. Leonardo was in the business of inventing the future. But since he never got around to publishing his discoveries, he did not materially influence the future. Therein lies the tragedy of Leonardo.

Physicist-artist-author Bulent Atalay invokes Leonardo’s model, in order to achieve the larger goal of achieving a synthesis of disparate fields by presenting science through art, and art through science.


Bulent Atalay was born in Ankara, Turkey. After his early education at Eton (UK) and St. Andrew's School (Delaware), site of the 1989 Robin Williams film, "Dead Poets Society,” he received BS, MS, MA and Ph.D. degrees and completed post-doctoral work in theoretical physics at Georgetown, UC-Berkeley, Princeton and Oxford.  He is a professor of physics at the University of Mary Washington, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

He is also an accomplished artist, who has presented his works in one-man exhibitions in London and Washington. His two books of lithographs; "Lands of Washington" and "Oxford and the English Countryside" can be found in the permanent collections of Buckingham Palace, the Smithsonian, and the White House.

He lectures around the world on disparate subjects — he has spoken to physicists and engineers at NASA and NIST; to economists at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; physicians at Johns Hopkins and National Institute of Health; and to academics at Caltech, Stanford, Harvard…

His highly acclaimed book, Math and the Mona Lisa (Smithsonian Books, 2004) has appeared in twelve languages. His most recent book, Leonardo's Universe (National Geographic Books, 2009) was chosen by the Encyclopedia Britannica blog writer as “One of ten must-have books for the year,” and has already appeared in Japanese. Professor Atalay’s website can be seen at